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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.


Blade (1998)

An organized vampire underworld operating in league with key human figures in a covert plan to control the world.  All that opposes them is the Daywalker, Blade (Wesley Snipes).  He was born shortly after his own mother was bitten by a vampire, and thus, inherited all their powers with none of their weaknesses, except the thirst for blood.  The serum concocted by ally and fellow “suckhead” slayer Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) suppresses this thirst, but Blade is building up an immunity to it.  As Blade tears through the vampire underworld, he moves in closer and closer to Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) who has major plans to cease control of the vampire nation from the “pure bloods.”  Caught in the middle of this bloody, unseen war is Dr. Karen Jenson (N’Bushe Wright).  As the film unfolds, Frost’s own plot is slowly uncovered as well as the origins of our heroes, and the potential for a cure to vampirism.

Wesley Snipes owns this entire film.  His expert martial arts skills are executed with machine-like precision making Blade into the ultimate vampire slaying bad ass.  Beyond that is the pain within.  Blade has a lot of obvious internal pain that keeps him distant from even Whistler, who is the closest thing to a friend and parent he ever had.  While Blade plays their relationship very coldly, in the end, there’s a lot of emotion there.  Blade owes Whistler everything.  In contrast, Kris Kristofferson plays Whistler like an cowboy.  He’s a real tough old bastard that doesn’t show any real sentimentality, but he’s exceptionally likable.  He’s a hard ass for sure, but with his past and allegiance with Blade, it’s difficult to be any other way.  He gives Blade the needed kick in the ass when he’s getting a bit too enveloped in his own agendas.

Stephen Dorff plays a wonderfully despicable villain in Frost.  He’s defiant, sadistic, and completely vile.  He has a lot of fun with the role, playing it up with a sick enthusiasm.  Frost is also very frustrated with the arrogant and aristocratic attitudes of the pure bloods, thinking they have the right to run everything, and tell him what to do.  His ultimate scheme intends to wipe them off the face of the planet, and bestow god-like powers upon himself.  Dorff has so much charisma that makes him deliciously evil, if even a bit annoying to some.  His henchman Quinn, played by comedian Donal Logue, is a energetic and hilarious delight.  In a film handled with so much weight, levity is so valued.  Snipes and Kristofferson also have tinges of humor in their performances, but it is easily the villains here that offer up the most.  This allows the film to not be cheesy, but instead delightfully villainous at times.

The other notable villain here is Dragonetti portrayed by the eccentric and distinctly European actor Udo Kier.  He’s an amazing genre actor with a perfect German accent and look to fit into the classic vampire motif.   He has over 170 acting credits on his filmography, and has worked with Peter Hyams, Dario Argento, and even John Carpenter on an episode for Masters of Horror.  Udo plays Dragonetti as greatly as he does in any other role, and adding a real air of sophistication to the vampire elders.

Stephen Norrington directs this film with much style, but also a lot of weight.  The source material is updated, cleaned up, and given a lot of seriousness.  Still, as stated, there’s humor and an excellent sense of fun.  Never does anything get to feeling so serious that you lose interest.  The dramatic and emotional moments are handled well, and the action sequences are shot with a lot of fun and top-notch composition.  This was easily before every action director was shooting their films with the infamous shaky-cam style.  The end duel between Blade & Frost has such speed and ferocity that you’ll be hard pressed to find a more intense one-on-one fight with this great of choreography.

Director of photography Theo Van De Sande gave the film an amazing look.  The coldness of the blues and grays goes a long way to establishing the feel of this underground world of vampires, but it doesn’t dominate the film.  There’s plenty of daytime and certain indoor scenes with a warmer color palette.  This is a needed counterbalance to avoid making the film too dreary.  Films like Underworld failed to offer such a visual counterbalance as well as a sense of levity that hurt its entertainment and enjoyment value.  Norrington and Theo Van De Sande got it right the first time out the gate.

Eight years later, I do have to say that the visual effects here don’t hold up well at all.  They look very low budget by today’s higher end standards.  Even the visual effects in Blade: The Series looked better than they do in this feature film, but for the time of its theatrical release, they were pretty good, but no great.  I can’t help but hold 1993’s Jurassic Park as a CGI standard bearer since so many films these days still fail to live up to that level of quality and realism.  Though, the makeup effects here are great with much gory texture and detail.

Mark Isham’s score coupled with a pulsating soundtrack gives this film great power and vibrancy.  It hits all the right marks, and flows with the moments to keep the film coherent in style and mood.

Now, I’ve seen mixed results with David S. Goyer’s screenwriting. Blade: Trinity was an awful mess with bad dialogue and poor plotting.  What I’ve come to believe is that the influence and vision of the directors he has worked with have geared his scripts into far higher quality territory.  In any case, this adaptation of a lower tier Marvel Comics character turned out greatly!  The final shooting script was obviously very strong, and created an excellent film.

Overall, I would call Blade a definite classic that combines elements of horror, action, and martial arts in a very fresh and intelligent way.  Remember, this predated The Matrix by several months, and honestly, any martial arts sequence in this film kicks the crap out of all of The Matrix trilogy.  Who needs ten tons of wire work and a thousand Kung Fu blocks when you’ve got some full-on vampire martial arts and swordplay ass-kicking?  Wesley Snipes definitely solidified himself as a certified bad ass with this film.  Stephen Norrington also displayed a great artistic eye and killer talent for making genre-blending films.  It’s all too bad that after his exceptionally difficult experience making The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he vowed never to direct another film.  But in regards to Blade, I give it a 9.5/10.  The CGI is certainly dated, and the final duel could’ve been extended for greater dramatic effect.  Still, it’s a stellar film with fantastic action and a definite dramatic weight overall.