Director: Guillermo Del Toro
There once was a time when superhero movies weren't the money-making juggernauts they are today. In that day and age, you could count the number of truly good superhero movies on one hand and have fingers left over. But times change. The superhero movie genre underwent a dramatic change at the turn of the twenty-first century, and it's all thanks to the movie Blade. The titular vampire slayer from the pages of Marvel Comics is neither a mainstream nor a traditional superhero by any means, but when the live-action movie he inspired was released to theaters in 1998, its success prompted movie studios to take a fresh look at how they adapted comic book properties into feature films. And of course, the success of Blade meant that New Line Cinema wouldn't hesitate in approving a sequel. That sequel the appropriately-titled Blade II greatly improves upon its predecessor by not only trying to avoid Blade's flaws, but delivering more of what we'd expect: lots of vampires, exciting action, and good old-fashioned violence.
Two years have passed since the events of the first movie, time that Blade (Wesley Snipes) has spent searching for the missing body of his lost mentor, Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). He eventually finds his old friend in the Czech Republic, turned into a vampire and kept alive in suspended animation. Bringing Whistler back to his base of operations, Blade administers an accelerated version of the anti-vampirism cure developed in the first movie. The cure works, and while Whistler is grateful to be a human again, he isn't exactly enthused with some of the changes made to he and Blade's operation in his absence. And by that, I mean Whistler is less than impressed by Blade's choice in a new sidekick, a disrespectful goon named Scud (Norman Reedus). But while Whistler and Scud squabble, a bigger problem presents itself when two vampires infiltrate their hideout and propose a temporary truce with Blade. He agrees to this truce, and the vampire pair escort him to the fortress of Eli Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann), an ancient vampire elder.
He brings to Blade's attention Jared Nomak (Luke Goss), an incredibly violent vampire who is spreading a new, evolved form of vampirism named "the Reaper virus." Nomak's bloodlust drives him to not only attack humans, but vampires as well. Nomak is slowly but surely infecting others with the Reaper virus, and its spread threatens both the human and vampire races. Damaskinos and his clan offer to temporarily suspend their hostilities with Blade and partner with him in order to combat Nomak and the growing number of Reapers he has created. Blade accepts, entering into an uneasy alliance with Damaskinos's daughter Nyssa (Leoner Varela) and a squad of vampire assassins known as the Bloodpack. But as Blade and the Bloodpack prepare to wage war with Nomak, secrets soon come bubbling to the surface that ally against ally.
I enjoyed the first Blade movie, but that didn't change the fact that it had its share of flaws. Blade II improves upon its predecessor's methods, operating with more focus, greatly improved special effects, and more imagination. Now that's not to say that this movie doesn't have its own flaws, but that doesn't stop it from being an entertaining piece of action cinema. Blade II might still just be your typical modern action movie, but it is handled in such a way that puts it at a higher quality than other movies such as this. It's also a stronger movie than Blade, so let's get into what makes it that way, shall we?
A lot of the movie's fantastic quality comes from the work of director Guillermo Del Toro. He's no stranger to vampires, as his debut movie the 1993 Mexican flick Chronos also delves into the realm of undead bloodsuckers. But Blade II is a much different beast than the other, more fantasy-oriented work that Del Toro is known for. It is, as I said, pretty much a straightforward action movie with vampires as the villains. However, Del Toro is a very artistic filmmaker, which means good things for Blade II. The movie is visually astounding, with stunning camerawork (thanks to cinematographer Gabriel Beristain), CGI and special effects that have vastly improved upon the original movie's, and a Brothers Grimm-like tone. Blade II might not be the same kind of glorified fairy tale like Pan's Labyrinth or the Hellboy movies, but Del Toro's work here gives the movie that sort of vibe. There's a reason why Blade II is considered by quite a few people to be the best chapter in the trilogy, and I'd reason to bet that Del Toro's direction is the reason why. There's also some great music composed by Marco Beltrami that, when combined with the hip hop songs comprising the soundtrack, the movie boasts an auditory experience that greatly backs up the visual one.
Next up is the screenplay, penned once again by David S. Goyer. Goyer seems to have learned from the mistakes made in the first Blade movie by eschewing some of the cheesy, over-the-top dialogue and characters that were so prevalent. Goyer's script does include a joke or two that don't really work, a character who is quite annoying, and a twist regarding one character's allegiances that is both lame and obvious in retrospect. But other than that, Goyer's script is tighter and more streamlined, more focused. He actually works harder in order to create intimidating villains and characters you can root for. But as I said, there are weak spots in the script, particularly the occasional gaping hole in the movie's logic. The biggest one is at the very beginning of the movie, when the two vampires deliver their message of a truce to Blade. They sneak into the building dressed like ninjas, then engage in a fight with Blade. I know it was done to add a little excitement to the movie, but for their own sake, wouldn't it have been easier for the two characters to simply knock on the door and deliver the message without having to be so sneaky about it? What if Blade had killed them before they could say anything? Then their whole mission would have been shot, and it would have blown the entire movie within the first twenty minutes. Maybe I'm looking too deeply into things, but seriously, it's the little things that get noticed the most.
Last but not least is the cast. As with the prior movie, the acting portion of Blade II is primarily dominated by Wesley Snipes. He's not as stoic nor as conflicted as he was previously. Instead, Snipes seems more focused on making Blade the ultimate ass-kicker. Through Snipes's performance, we get the impression that Blade is having fun hunting vampires, offering the occasional bit of sarcastic trash talk while reducing his bloodsucking foes to piles of ash. And because of his engaging, charismatic performance, Snipes draws us in and makes the movie as a whole more entertaining.
The rest of the cast, for the most part, do well too. Kris Kristofferson is once again amusing as Blade's perpetually grumpy sidekick and father figure, while Ron Perlman is fun as a member of the Bloodpack that finds great amusement in antagonizing Blade. I also thought Leoner Varela was engaging in her role as a potential love interest for our hero, while Thomas Kretschmann did a fine job playing the creepy vampire elder. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention Luke Goss as our lead villain. Goss's performance as the vampire's vampire is everything that Stephen Dorff wasn't in Blade: intimidating, no-nonsense, and just plain scary. Goss is great, one of the movie's real bright spots.
However, I'd be lying if I said that I thought all of the cast put forth their best efforts. I don't know whether it's the actor's fault or Goyer's fault for the creation of such an irritating character, but every second Norman Reedus was in a scene, I wanted him to go away. That's one misfire that's managed to carry over from Blade into Blade II: the annoying sidekick. I don't see the necessity for that same character archetype to be used again, something that isn't helped by the fact that if I could have, I'd have reached into the screen and smacked the Scud character every time I saw him. Though I will admit that the character being such a pain in the neck makes his final fate that much more gratifying.
That aside, Blade II is quite simply a fun and entertaining movie from start to finish. The cast and crew should be proud of themselves for putting together such a solid movie. Sure, Blade isn't among the most recognizable characters in Marvel's stable of superheroes, but that doesn't stop Blade II from being a fun way to spend two hours of your time. It's everything that you could want to see in a movie cut from this kind of cloth. So on the patent-pending Five-Star Sutton Scale, Blade II earns a solid four stars. Go check it out, and you'll see what I mean.
Final Rating: ****