Blade II (2002)
Blade II is a distinctively different animal than the original Blade. This is practically all due to the change in directors from Stephen Norrington to Guillermo del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy). He brings a much more colorful canvas to the film, and a bit bigger sense of fun. Cinematographer Gabriel Beristain helps del Toro achieve this to the fullest extent. Also, as is another trademark of Guillermo’s films, he brings in the wonderful Ron Perlman to the main cast as a token bad ass. The film definitely takes a lot of new turns and fleshes out established ideas. Though, it lacks the dramatic weight and emotion that Stephen Norrington’s film was quite rich with.
The film picks up five years after the events of the first film. In that time, Blade (Wesley Snipes) learned that his old friend and mentor Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) eventually did turn into a ‘suckhead,’ but the vampire nation has kept him hidden. Though, Blade soon rescues him, and returns to his new lair in Prague. A cure of some sort to administered to Whistler, and only time will tell if it takes fully.
Meanwhile, it isn’t long before the vampire nation comes looking for Blade with a unique offer of a truce. A new mutated species of vampires, called reapers, have become a serious threat to them and potentially all of humanity. They are overall a more advanced species with abilities and strengths beyond any other vampire, and a hunger that is like a drug addiction – they have to feed constantly. Anyone bitten is immediately infected. Also, Nomack (Luke Goss) is the original reaper who holds secrets that could bring down the vampire nation. Thus, vampire princess Nyssa (Leonor Varela) has come to enlist the aid of the Daywalker to lead this hunt for them. Blade teams up with a death squad named the Blood Pack that have been trained to kill Blade himself, but are focused on eliminating the reapers for the time being. At the head of this group is Reinhardt (Ron Perlman) who shows immediate distaste and opposition to Blade, but he’s soon put in his place the way only Blade can do. There is also pure blood elder Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann) who is Nyssa’s father, but also holds secrets of his own that he refuses to take responsibility for. These sorts of things come into play later in the film.
The hunt for the reapers and Nomack is only half the story here, and thus, only lasts through about half the film. Members of the Blood Pack are lost in the hunt, but the main characters survive it. Along the way, a bond is formed between Blade and Princess Nyssa while the relationship between Blade and Whistler seems to fade deep into the background. It almost seems like Whistler needs protecting, like he can no longer hold his own. Though, the hunt to destroy the reapers is really only half of the film, and barely scratches the surface of the overall plot which Blade hardly sees coming when he and Whistler are taken captive and a traitor is revealed along with buried truths with threaten everyone.
I would like to say that I actually feel this is NOT a sequel that surpasses the original, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. I enjoyed the more dramatic, serious tone of the original Blade with its balance of action, vampire lore, and interesting, entertaining characters. Blade II offers up a more fun, multi-colored visual style with jacked up action sequences, but lighter on character depth and lacking a coherent plot progression. The first half of the film sets up a really strong threat in the Reapers, but all the setup and very detailed exposition is dashed when all but Nomack are wiped out halfway through the film. After that, it’s all personal agendas and vendettas to sustain the film from there. A far less sympathetic Frankenstein’s Monster tale of a creation turning against its creator ensues, and Blade is just there to clean up the mess. The final fight between Blade and Nomack, while intense and entertaining, is mostly a CGI affair like something out of The Matrix Trilogy forcing it, by default, to lack a needed visceral element. The fight mainly happens because the film needs a climax. The only real justification for it is a last minute act of violence that fires up Blade to throw down – an act that has no real purpose to have happened. There’s no build up of personal disdain between the two as there was between Blade and Deacon Frost in the 1997 film. Ultimately, Nomack is not the real villain of the film, but is left as the only remaining threat by the film’s end.
I also think Guillermo del Toro imbued this film with a bit too much cheesiness and levity. While Snipes, Perlman, and the other actors pull it off well, I feel we lose the weight of the story overall. First and foremost, Blade just doesn’t come off as imposing or as threatening as before. While Blade was quite the antisocial, brooding, edgy, blunt, and internal personality before, here (amongst enemies no less) opens up his thoughts and sense of humor significantly more. Snipes still plays the role exceptionally well, it just seems to go against Blade’s established personality – especially since he retains that cold, stone-faced facade when he’s amongst his established allies.
Speaking of which, Norman Reedus appears as Scud, a new ally of the Daywalker. He essentially took over Whistler’s role in his absence, but now that he’s back, there is friction. Though, where Whistler was allowed to be his own strong, solid character in the previous film, he becomes little more than an object of abuse by the Blood Pack here. This is deeply unfortunate considering that Kristofferson is a spectacular actor, and Whistler had such a wealth of potential for serious exploration before. Instead, he’s made into a weaker character overall that Blade has to protect whereas he could hold his own before. I really liked his gruff cowboy style mentality from the first film, and to see it be depleted here throughout the film for no major reason is just sad. You don’t get to see Whistler kick anyone’s ass, at all, ever in this whole film. That’s a greatly negative mark against this film, in my eyes.
The special and visual effects are superior than those in the original film, but with a span of four years between films, it’s not surprising. Guillermo does use a great deal more CGI than Norrington did, but it still works well for the film (even if it might be a slight bit obvious, at times). While I believe del Toro makes very good films, and excels with the more fantastical material, I simply believe he veered certain aspects of this film into incorrect directions. I like a good dash of humor in my films as much as anyone, but I don’t like it when the essence of an established character is lost within it. That’s what I see happened here with Blade. His character is too light, and loses some of his dark, mysterious edge. Whistler is handled in a pretty pathetic fashion which doesn’t roll for me. Anyone who casts Kris Kristofferson does so for his strength of character and natural presence of authority – that is totally wasted in this sequel.
Also, overall, I feel the vampire nation is presented in a very inconsequential light in this film. Whereas in the first film, they seemed like a powerful underground global organization, here the vampire nation seems terribly smaller and less influential with the weak and cowardly Damaskinos heading everything. He carries himself with no weight, and hardly seems like a threat to anyone. The only thing that makes him powerful is his personal influence and armed guards. When danger comes his way, he retreats like a little old lady – literally. Nomack really is a greater threat (and proves it), but is terribly downplayed by the second half of the film. This is all why del Toro’s film is marginally inferior to Norrington’s original film – mishandling of characters and plot. This might be attributed to David Goyer’s writing (lord, I know what it’s like when there’s no around to fix it up), but it is the director’s job to balance these things out. I simply feel like there was more consistent storytelling and character continuity with the original Blade. I’ve seen Hellboy, and I feel it suffers from the exact same problems as Blade II. It is a fine film, but could use some definite improvements as could this sequel.
And I just have to say the biggest mishandling of a talent in this film is in Donnie Yen. I’ve only seen him in Highlander: Endgame, but DAMN, was I impressed by his talent and abilities. The man is a premiere martial artist that rivals the likes of Jet Li and such. He is simply an amazing athlete and martial artist. The fact that he’s barely utilized in this film should be a crime. Maybe the filmmakers were afraid he’d out-shine Wesley Snipes? I don’t know, but it’s just wrong to have under-utilized him in this picture. Honestly, if you cast a talent the caliber of Donnie Yen, it’s for a very specific reason, and that reason is blatantly obvious. To not make use of his most prominent talents is simply stupid. Of what I’ve seen of him, I’d definitely look forward to seeing more of his talents.
This film has new music composers in Marco Beltrami and Danny Saber, but the difference isn’t strikingly different. In the least, the music fits well with del Toro’s tone and style. The soundtrack still features some techno-style music, but also rap / hip-hop music is present with the likes of Cypress Hill. Not at all my taste in music, but it’s good within the context of the film. Simply put, I have no qualms about the musical score or soundtrack for the film.
The film does indeed look fantastic with a rich color scheme, and the stellar cinematography. The camera moves and angles definitely lend a sense of scope and power to the images. The production design is top-notch creating various distinct sets and locales with bring a European flavor to the film. With all the more diverse settings in this film, it easily makes it look more elaborate than the American urban setting of the first film. But whatever the case, it all looks amazing!
Overall, taking in all the good and not-so-good of the film, I would have to give Blade II a score slightly below that of the first film. Guillermo del Toro is an awesome filmmaker, but with this film, I just don’t feel his style lent itself best to this film. I would’ve preferred more dramatic and emotional weight overall, and a stronger consistency in the characters of Blade and Whistler. They are the only franchise mainstays, and they’re the ones we follow from film-to-film. I feel their characters were weakened, and their potential strength was drained by excessive levity in the film overall. Also, the CGI is good, but during the action scenes, you know when it’s CGI, making it not all that great. It certainly helped the filmmakers achieve things that they couldn’t do otherwise, but also took away from the effectiveness of the times it was used. It becomes a toss up, but never the less, I count it as a mark against the film, to a small degree. Simply put, I give Blade II an 8.5/10. It’s a good film, but it could’ve been stronger and more coherent in its storytelling progression and character development.