Blade II (2002, Guillermo del Toro)
One of the more interesting aspects of doing a marathon for which the topics surrounds a specific director’s work is that it can provide the viewer with clear patterns in said director’s vision. From stories telling cues, emotional beats to aesthetic choices, certain directors find a comfort zone and flex their movie making muscles within it. Having watched a 6th Guillermo del Toro film in the span of a month, the most noticeable trend the author has picked up on the question of identity. Oftentimes characters are forced to suffer through life as things they would rather not be, reduced to lurking in shadows because regular people would never accept who they are. Despite their best efforts, they will not ever be a member of the outside world. Blade II is just one of those movies, although this del Toro movie has a nasty bite to it.
Set 2 years after the original installment (although in actuality it was released four years later), the titular vampire hunter (Wesley Snipes) is on the prowl to find his old friend and mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) who has been kidnapped by his enemies. After reuniting, the duo return to home base where a new tech-geek, Scud (Norman Reedus), assists Blade in his ongoing war with the by constructing highly sophisticated weaponry. Neither weapons master likes the other, but before they can ever get at each others' throats, vampires make a daring entrance into their hideout, but instead of being sent to kill the trio, they have arrived to offer a temporary truce and plead for help. A new breed of vampire is in town, one more ferocious than any seen before, not to mention that it preys on vampires themselves. Naturally, if they get through all the vampires, they shall go after what is left, humans. Blade reluctantly agrees to help. He joins an elite vampire battle squad, a couple played by some rather familiar faces the likes of Ron Perlman and Donnie Yen. Even the lead super vampire is played by Luke Goss, who would appear in a later del Toro film, Hellboy II.
In many respects, Blade II is much like its predecessor, only with even more violence and superior visual effects. Blade cuts through hoards of villains which all disintegrate into ash once defeated, Whistler behaves like a grumpy old man who thinks he is getting too old for this sort of profession, and many of the vampires have the same cocky attitude as they did in the previous film, the standout being Ron Perlman’s villain, who works up such a disdain for Blade one begins to wonder that maybe if he ever actually succeeds at doing away with the protagonist, killing humans afterwards would be a deadly bore. Despite what rehashing there is, the story still takes some steps in a different direction from the first. Obviously there is the matter of having Blade join forces with those he swore to eradicate in the first movie. Realizing the irony and the danger involved in the predicament, Blade himself quotes the old ‘keep your enemies closer’ adage, although the viewer doubts just exactly how close he wants to get to those who made him what he is. Furthermore, the film adds one specific element which complicates matters: the presence of a sympathetic female vampire in the group, Nyssa (Leonor Varela). Born a vampire, she has never known any other habits than the ones forced upon her to survive. Unlike Blade however, she has come to terms with what fate put her through. Her camaraderie and open mindedness (relatively speaking) challenges Blade’s philosophy, even though he does not change per say. Whereas not so long ago the protagonist never would have dreamt about being allies, let alone friends with a vampire, Nyssa’s existence shakes him up a bit. The viewer might ask why is it that Nyssa appears to be the only vampire that is not a total jerk who shows nothing but contempt to the everything in the world, but if one can accept the movie world logic in which Blade II is established, then the storyline does become somewhat compelling.
It goes without saying that Wesley Snipes is front and center in virtually all of the movie’s scenes. For a character with such a glum personality, it looks rather obvious that Snipes is having as much fun as humanly possible playing the part. Little smirks will make fleeting appearances across his face whenever Blade is satisfied with what he has accomplished, awkwardly funny one liners are dropped and of course there is some good old fashioned ‘mutha fu**as’ tossed in just to make it abundantly clear that Blade is ticked off. Blade himself is a bit difficult to get behind. As a human-vampire hybrid who stalks the night with the sole purpose of destroying as many vampires as possible, on paper he is does not possess the most appealing personality imaginable, but thankfully Snipes understands this, on some level at least, that having an emotionally dead protagonist would spoil the fun, and therefore he goes for a few laughs. There is also the matter of Blade constantly wearing shades, and when eyes are blocked from view, intimacy becomes doubly more difficult, so credit should be awarded to Snipes for infusing some personality into the man, violent and vulgar as it may be. The rest of the cast performs decently enough, although some are hindered by the mediocre material awarded to them. Perlman relishes the opportunity to play the nastiest of villains, and Kristofferson shows a lot of gusto as the aging Whistler who remains by Blade’s side despite it all. Unfortunately Luke Goss cannot escape the rather uninspired dialogue and character beats he has to wrestle with and Norman Reedus, as Scud, grows tiresome after a while, but again that is more a result of the character than the actor.
As mentioned above, the sequel follows the pace as the original film, one driven primarily by action sequences, visual effects and stunt work. Notice the order in which I wrote those three words. Action comes first, then visual effects and finally stunt work. That is was not done with ill-feelings towards what stung stunt was performed, but rather due to the reality of the action’s execution, which, instead of relying on stunt work first and visual effects second, chooses to go the opposite route. Whether action scene stunts depicted in more recent films have cleverly camouflaged computer generated imagery or actually rely on flesh and blood people to perform deft defying manoeuvres (I wager a guess that it is a mixture of the two, but with still a bit more emphasis on the true stunt work), the same cannot be said for del Toro’s Blade II, which makes use of blatant CG work in heightening the many swords fights and jumps. Before any reader begins to think the author is merely going to rip the film apart based on that assessment, rest assured, I enjoyed most of the action in the film. Most of it is done well, with the sewer sequence being my personal favourite action sequence. That being said, there were more than a few moments when actors were replaced by 100% computer generated copies. I recall seeing the movie back in 2002 in theatres and even at the time believing the filmmakers had gone overboard with the computer effects, almost none of which look realistic. The moments take the viewer out of the moment and seemingly challenge them to observe how good the visuals are, how close they came to making a cartoon Wesley Snipes look like the real Wesley Snipes. Needless to say, it is distracting. In smaller doses, such when bringing the super vampires to life (their jaws are far wider than regular vampires), it works nicely, but when a actor is suddenly turned into a cartoon, it is not as impressive.
Blade II marked del Toro’s return to Hollywood, but this time equipped with better actors and a higher budget to pull of the creature and set designs he has become known for. The movie makes one wonder if del Toro was hell bent on finally succeeding at making an intensely violent monster action movie before moving on to anything else. Blade II may have been based on a comic book property, it actually does have a lot in common with Mimic (to the point where certain major sequences occur under the city streets). Blade II would prove to be the open door he needed to become one of the most prominent names in the industry.