Blade II (2002) Review
Originally posted to Justice Bulletin, August 2012
Blade II, hitting theaters a full 4 years after the first film, had the difficult task of recapturing the seeming lightning-in-a-bottle success of the original Blade, which lit up the box office in the late-90s and had the distinction of being the first successful big budget film starring a Marvel Comics hero. The result, helmed by acclaimed horror director Guillermo del Toro, is as worthy a sequel as we could hope for.
The film begins with Blade on a quest to rescue his long lost mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). Whistler returns from the dead through the power of crazed desperate writing to undo what was otherwise a perfect dramatic demise in the first film. It isn’t quite hitting the reset button, though it sometimes feels that way, like when Whistler notes that he still has his old limp even after going from human to vampire and back. In spite of this, everything that happens to Whistler between films helps define his character here and create tension that carries through the film, with the audience frequently uncertain about whether he’s really cured. And however ludicrous his return may be, it’s great to have Kristofferson back (and now the writers can include more references to him being a southern man). He also has some surprisingly great chemistry with his grease-monkey would-be replacement Scud (Norman Reedus of Boondock Saints and "Walking Dead" fame).
One of the problems with the vampires in this movie (and this continues into Blade Trinity) is that they’re just not menacing anymore. From the first moment we see them, they’re getting disintegrated by Blade without any hope of defending themselves. They were creepy and intimidating in the first one, but now they’re just flimsy target practice for our hero. Fortunately the script has a few tricks to remedy this.
We get a familiar and reliable sequel setup: The good guys and bad guys must team up to deal with an even worse threat. There’s a new beast on the block named Nomak (Luke Goss), the vampire-killing monster from the opening scenes. He’s some new strain of bloodsucker, and his victims turn into grotesque super-hungry Reapers like him. Blade agrees to an uneasy truce with the vampire royal house, figuring that after Nomak runs out of vampires, his growing legion of minions will go after humans to satisfy their bloodlust. On the one hand, he’ll be working with his sworn enemies, but on the other, he gets to have a closer look at the innards of the vampires’ society than ever before.
In short order we meet even more new characters in the form of the Blood Pack, the colorful squad of elite vampires who Blade must lead to fight the Reapers. The fact that they were originally trained to hunt Blade creates some fantastically tense dynamics and some of the film’s best moments, most notably with Ron Perlman, who steals the show as the Blood Pack’s main dragon Reinhart. He cultivates a rivalry with Blade and gets many of the best lines. Perlman first worked with Del Toro way back on the director’s first film Cronos and would go on to star in both of his Hellboy movies (and the fans did rejoice). Reinhart clearly wants to be Blade; he wears the black jacket and the shades (which he never removes), tries to imitate Blade’s unflappable swagger, and later plays around with Blade’s famous sword like a new toy.
Also on the hunt is vampire princess Nyssa, played by Chilean actress Leonor Varela. On the casting notices for Nyssa, I just know somewhere you’d find the word “exotic”. She is the series’ most sincere attempt at giving Blade a love interest. Nyssa is smartly written, and manages to throw a wrench in Blade’s typical kill-‘em-all mentality by being a far more complex sworn enemy than he is used to dealing with. However, Varela’s performance isn’t as interesting as it should be. Her delivery is rather flat, and she often sounds like she hasn’t quite mastered English.
Blade II still has a few noticeable problems. It was among the first films to utilize CGI stuntmen, and clearly that there were still a few kinks. A couple of the fight scenes have moments where the solid humanoid combatants are suddenly swapped out for gooey gelatinous cartoon characters. It’s incredibly jarring, but thankfully it’s used sparingly.
Nomak is at best a mediocre villain, and Goss mostly lets the make-up and contacts do the work for him. I’ll admit he makes an excellent monster, as do the Reapers in general; they’re a great combination of makeup and effects, and we learn right along with the characters just how powerful they really are. Del Toro brings many of his trademarks (slimy monsters, sewer battles, embryos) to make the most out of the horror elements that the Reapers bring, not to mention upping the gore factor. With Nomak, the script tries to play him up as some sort of tragic figure, but he and his motivations exist mostly at the service of the plot. His ultimate goal for revenge doesn’t always gel with his actions, and his attempts to appeal to Blade’s killer instinct amount to nothing. Blade could care less about what Nomak wants. Even after all the twists and turns of the final act, Nomak is just another monster for Blade to kill.
Blade II sports a simpler overall story than its predecessor, which it balances with a higher volume of action and great creature effects. Considering the improbable awesomitude of the first film, it’s astounding that the sequel is just as good if not better.
Final score: 8.5/10