Chalk up Blade II as a sequel worthy of its predecessor. 1998’s Blade, directed by Stephen Norrington, was an unexpected hit; a gripping story infused by a dead-on one-two punch of caustic action and cinematic style (picture the Chinatown sequence: Blade firing at Deacon Frost). And opening this weekend is the much anticipated Blade II, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Mimic), which has the essentials and a great deal more.
As Blade, the part-human/part-vampire “Daywalker” carrying out an unwavering vendetta to rid the world of vampires, Snipes is in top form; he’s got the moves, the attitude, the sunglasses, and, we’re intermittently reminded, the humor (his off-hand comments and various one-liners went over well with the preview audience). For the benefit of the unacquainted, del Toro was right to include an opening narration by Snipes over a montage presenting a brief history of the Daywalker. It sets the stage. And when Snipes as Blade kicks into gear with moves, swings, and dips that would make Batman hightail it to the batcave, the action is nearly surreal in its CGI enhanced-visuals, punctuated with an accurately bone-cracking sound-mix (one impressive fight-sequence raves with The Crystal Method’s “Name of the Game”).
Returning in Blade II is Blade’s gadget-guru and master mechanic Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). Now, taking into account Whistler’s otherwise conclusive suicide in Blade, his presence in Blade II could simply have been cast aside as preposterous, but screenwriter David Goyer’s inventiveness prevails; Whistler’s return is plausible, case closed – the story moves onward. In a short time we’re introduced to Blade’s interim replacement for Whistler, Scud. “As in Stud,” he says. Scud (played with disheveled coolness by Norman Reedus) has a fondness for The Powerpuff Girls and the required knack for devising anti-vampire devices such as the handy UV grenade and the rifle-mounted UV laser.
I’ll forgo the initial introduction of the elite group of vampires known as the Bloodpack, because frankly it’s remarkable (there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself talking about it after the film), and get to the heart of the matter: the Reapers, a new aberrant strain of vampires, or, the next step in the genetic evolution of vampires. Essentially, they’re super-creepy super-vampires; they can eerily climb walls like a spider, they¿re immune to silver, they’re stronger, faster, and afflicted with an almost constant desire for blood. This necessitates their feeding on other vampires, which in turn leads the vampire nation to request Blade’s assistance. Why? Because once the Reapers finish off vampires, they’ll overrun the human population. So, Blade, Whistler and Scud join forces with the Bloodpack, a team which, by the way, has been training for the past two years to kill Blade. In light of the Reaper threat, both parties have to sideline their mutual desire to stab each other in the heart.
You’ll agree; Each member of the Bloodpack is too cool for school. Leader of the pack is Reinhardt (Ron Perlman). As Reinhardt, Perlman brings a keen lowbrow menace, and the subsequent one-upmanship interaction between Reinhardt and Blade is priceless in its humor. A key member of the Bloodpack is Nyssa, played by Leonor Varela, the chief liaison between Blade and the Bloodpack. Varela does a wonderful job; she’s enthralling. She’s also got the moves, and, not to mention, the looks. Hopefully we’ll be seeing her in more films to come. And given the opportunity under del Toro’s direction to individually establish their personality traits, each member of the Bloodpack (Matt Schulze as Chupa, Merit Velle Kile as Verlaine, Donny Yen as Snowman, Danny John Jules as Asad, Tony Curran as Priest and Daz Crawford as Lighthammer) puts in an effective performance.
What makes del Toro’s Blade II truly unique are the different ways in which he presents the action sequences. The fight-sequences (apart from, of course, the amazing fight choreography) appear to have distinct photographic and editing styles which take the scenes out of the ordinary. Some sequences feature editing that creates blindingly fast swordplay; some employ an effect in which the camera is under-cranked to give the action a staccato-like motion; and some incorporate a large amount of CGI into the mix, and for some angles everything in the frame is CGI. The drawback here, without question, is it’s obviously CGI, and it’s particularly evident when Blade himself is CGI’ed. It looks fake; like animated action figures. However, looking at the plus side, one could say it gives a comic-booky gloss to the high-intensity action.You’ll feel as if you’ve been put through the wringer.
However, for all of Blade II’s action, and it’s borderline overdose, the film is thankfully well-paced. Del Toro has Blade II timed to the emotional beat, and it flows from track to track like your favorite CD mix. Even at what I felt was Blade II’s weakest moment, an unclear plot-point involving rings, there isn’t an uninteresting moment in the film. If there aren’t swords, bullets, daggers, UV grenade explosions, and Reapers wreaking havoc, Blade II has its share of Fangoria moments. There’s an autopsy that gives Alien a run for the money. And the Reapers, well, when you see film, you’ll know what I mean.