It's been two long years of vampire hunting for Blade (Wesley Snipes), and he's finally found his long lost mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) in the process. Returning to his home, Blade is confronted by the leaders of the vampire order who want him to join them in an alliance to stop the evil Reaperssuper-vampires with huge chasms for mouthsfrom destroying all the vampires on Earth. It puts Blade in a precarious position, as he must elect to help his loathed enemy try to stop a new threat from taking over. Armed to the teeth, Blade leads an elite vampire squad, called the Bloodpack (including Leonor Varela, "legendary" fight choreographer Donnie Yen, and Ron Perlman), into the den of the Reapers to wipe them out for good. But can Blade trust the very same species sworn to kill him at any cost?
Director Guillermo Del Toro is a man in love with blood. Not in a violent way, but more in the sense that it holds beauty few people would care to notice. The respected horror director of "Cronos" and the very recent "The Devil's Backbone," Del Toro has had less luck with his Hollywood vision, which gave birth to the super-human cockroach debacle, "Mimic." In "Blade II" (IMDb listing) certain elements of "Mimic" are back in play: the absence of lighting, the murky underbelly of the city. and danger around every corner. But the end results of "Blade II" are far more successful than his previous efforts. Del Toro brings his bag of carnage with him to create a truly visionary horror/action film that often rises above its trappings and becomes far more atmospheric than others of its breed (helped immensely by Carol Spier's splendid production design work). Del Toro has a way with horror imagery and execution that gives "Blade II" a genre turbo boost that filmmaker Stephen Norrington couldn't find in the original "Blade." "Blade II" is far more gruesome than its predecessor, reveling in the bloodshed and pungent smells of the vampire world. Norrington's "Blade" was mechanical and icy. Del Toro's "Blade II" is sticky and tangible. It makes for a more impressive stab at this fundamentally flawed franchise, and a step in the right direction for future sequels.
What makes "Blade II" so interesting is that it's essentially a crisscross version of the original. "Blade" was a hyper-violent action film with striking set pieces and dry-as-toast drama. It was the most exciting bore of 1998. "Blade II" tries to compensate for that by reaching within to find a story that successfully sustains the storyline of "Blade" while still allowing for some serious wire-fu and brawling. Yet this time out, the story is the real attraction, as it's inventive and stimulating to the franchise. It's in the tedious fighting that the film becomes a smudgy blur. "Blade II" tries to dazzle you with pyro and mountains of CGI, but they have something more explosive in the story, which certainly "Blade" did not. "Blade II" is far more engaging than its forefather simply by being unpredictable. The original's success has allowed screenwriter David Goyer to indulge his imagination more, taking it to almost "Hamlet" like heights of bombast. It's only in the audience expectation of kicks and flips that "Blade II" loses its ground, as the metallic taste of the familiar creeps up the back of your throat once the film starts playing to the rafters again.
And in those kicks and flips, Del Toro uses an array of CGI to supplement what the human body can't do. With impossible flips and bone crunching thuds, "Blade II" is already something of a cartoon to start with. But Del Toro isn't satisfied with what his stuntmen can do, so he manipulates the fighting scenes with computer-generated body doubles for when just being human isn't enough. The look of these shots is extraordinarily absurd, as they never, for one second, match any of the human counterparts. One second Blade is reaching back to strike his enemy, and the next second he's doing some kind of old-school "Street Fighter" kick that involves three twists and the ability to fly up to three stories high. Sure, the film hardly plays into the realm of reality (you'll get that drift when Blade starts using wrestling moves to take down the Reapers), but Del Toro's furious CGI sleight of hand takes the natural jolt out of any action sequence in the film. And, if they had to do it, at least they could have done a better job matching the effects to the actors.
Wesley Snipes returns to the role of Blade with all the enthusiasm of a...brick. To be honest, the Blade character never was one to mince words, and Snipes plays the role with the expected ample amount of respect to the comic book origins. However, there is change afoot in "Blade II." Del Toro, Goyer and Snipes allow a little more character to seep into the vampire hunter, giving him more opportunities to be playful and even briefly romantic. They don't take it too far, but just enough to warm the character up a touch. In a supporting role as one of the Bloodpack, actor Ron Perlman (television's "Beauty And The Beast," "Cronos") livens up the proceedings with a little comedy, a little grit, and a whole lot of face. Having worked with the actor before, the director knows how to use Perlman perfectly. He gives Blade a run for his money when it comes to audience pleasing moments.
"Blade II" is a little faster, a little deeper and a whole lot more grotesque than the original. By taking the starch out of the collar of this franchise and drenching it with blood, "Blade II" makes a far better impression. Now if they lose the CGI and allow a little more lighting, they could be onto something with this series.
Filmfodder Grade: B