[box cover]

Blade II

New Line Home Entertainment

Starring Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, and Leonor Valera

Written by David Goyer
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro

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Review by Damon Houx                    

I. Sequels

There are two good ways to make a sequel: You can either go (what could be called) the Godfather II route, or the Aliens route. The first is to take what has already been established in the first film and then deepen it, expanding the existing characters so that their relationships change and resonate with the original without detracting from it. The second is to take the original director's and writer's existing ideas and refit them towards a new vision. Otherwise, you're stuck trying to recapture magic, which rarely works.

II. What then is Blade II?

A mess.

III. Care to extrapolate?

Sure. Here's the story. After the end of the first film, vampire hunter Blade (Wesley Snipes) is without his mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). But what we didn't know is that Whistler didn't kill himself as was implied (a gunshot was heard off screen) — instead, he was taken by the vampires and kept in stasis. Blade has made it his mission in life to find Whistler and kill him, but when he does find him (less than ten minutes later after telling us he's ready to kill him), Blade utters the immortal words of Ethan Edwards in The Searchers: "Let's go home." This set-up/quick-delivery aspect of the opening says loads about the rest of the film.

Though Blade remains unsure of his vampire tendencies after being held prisoner for two years, Whistler immediately gets in the face of Blade's new gadgeteer Scud (Norman Reedus), as they clash over who's the cock of the gadget walk. But before old versus new can come to a head, vampires show up offering Blade a truce: A new breed of vampire has been born, called the "Reaper Strain" — headed up by Nomak (Luke Goss) — that is like the Ebola version of vampirism and feeds on humans and vampires alike, quickly changing them into reapers that die if they don't feed. Since Blade loves humans, and this Nomak is a threat to all living things, Blade becomes captain of the vampire squad that was training to kill him, which was led by the pretty Nyssa (Leonor Valera) and troublemaker Reinhart (Ron Perlman). Killing reapers, gore, a vampire autopsy and double crossing ensue.

IV. What the first Blade did right

1998's Blade understood two important things about human nature: 1) Vampires are sexy; and 2) Audiences are voyeurs and therefore curious about secrets and hidden worlds. By having the vamps played by Calvin Klein models (and Stephen Dorff) and having them go to cool clubs normal people couldn't get into, the film tapped into one of the keys to great voyeurism: the privileged gaze. But in the character Blade, as played by Wesley Snipes, we had a badass to take out said vamps, and looked even better while doing it while mixing in street smarts (one of the best laughs in the film is when Blade is being shot at by the cops and says "Motherfucker, are you out of your damn mind?") making him human while doing superhuman acts as the world's only day-walking vampire. Though perhaps the film is never as much fun as its techno-scored bloodbath opening, it delivers good popcorn entertainment. Blade II ignores everything that made the first film work, essentially winding up as a shoot-em-up action flick.

V. What so wrong with that?

Nothing, if the story and action is compelling. Regrettably, it's not. Del Toro says on the audio commentary that this is part anime, part comic book, part opera, part Shakespeare. And if these pieces fit together, the film might be interesting (these same pieces fit better in Del Toro's previous film, 2001's The Devil's Backbone). Unfortunately, the story is not compelling because it lacks interesting characters and motivations.

VI. What would Howard Hawks say?

Hawks had a theory. When asked what makes a good movie he said "Three good scenes and no bad ones." In Blade II I found three awful scenes and/or plot-points, and one OK one.

The first bad bit is that the evil leader vampire Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann) looks like the evil reaper vampire Nomak. But his daughter is Leonor Valera, who looks like a Maxim cover girl. It doesn't take brains to figure out that Nomak and Damaskinos are of some relation, but when it's revealed that they are, it's one of the most underwhelming scenes in the picture. Even more than that, part of Vampire mythology (maintained by the first film) is that Vampires are ageless. So why he — and his son Nomak — would look like bad Nosferatu/Max Shrek clones is beyond me. I guess it's one of those things that supposed to look cool and not be thought about.

Another is that at one point it's revealed the only thing that kills the Reapers is light, so Scud and Whistler try and develop "light bombs" that give off a strong burst of ultraviolet light after a ten-second delay. The charge is supposed to be so strong that they short out quickly. Now since the two can design killer UV light-scopes for their guns, the light grenade make no sense; why wouldn't you just get a big-ass light and mow down the reapers? Sure, that's not as dramatic, but the bad scene comes when Blade unleashes a light bomb (about 30 of these grenades tied together) that explodes in a tunnel and blows outward so Nyssa has to dive into water to avoid it (note: diving under an explosion or out of the way or running away from one has become the hoariest clichés in action cinema). Dives under an explosion of light. Into water. And remains safe. From light that looks like blue flames.

The third bad scene is when at one point Blade has been tortured and depleted of strength. So he has to make his way to a big pool of blood that the vampires are harvesting (why, who knows?) but a bad guy shoots at him and he falls in the vat, only to rise up as something of a superbadass. Yet all I could think of when this happened was Popeye the Sailor, and the sanguinary equivalent of raw spinach.

It's likely none of these small things wouldn't have been so bothersome (nor the lameness of the "Is Whistler bad or isn't he" subplot) if the story was compelling; it isn't. At first Blade II sets up the blood pack and partners Blade with a bunch of Vampires, but outside of the looks of the vamps, they have no character, squashing the "Team on a mission" element of the film. There's also supposed to be a subplot about Nyssa's and Blade's growing attraction, but Valera has a hard time conveying emotions beyond awake. Unlike a good The Godfather Part II-like sequel, the story doesn't take Blade any further or deeper than he was before — he's too busy kicking ass. And unlike a good kung fu movie where beating someone up reveals a truth about their character, everything is so hyper-cut that all we can tell is that Blade is winning.

Wesley Snipes isn't as cool in this Blade sequel because the film removes the crucial element of humans (of which there are only a handful at the beginning and end) — without the interaction between the surface humans and subterranean vampire worlds, there's no balance of the fantastical and the real. Snipes is trying a bit too hard, and the moments of irreverence (like Blade blowing a kiss to his car) are off-putting instead of cool. Since all the film seems to care about is getting to the next action scene or gross out, there's no reason to bother, unless you like seeing action (which contains WWF moves in the last two big fights). Still, there's no grounded character motivations for many of the fights: Nomak helps Blade at one point and is a flawed but not totally evil character, but the final fight between the two is played like a showdown between great goodness and evil. It isn't.

There was one moment in Blade II that was fun. Blade has been betrayed by someone close, and is told so by the traitor. Before Blade launches into his diatribe about how he knew the betrayer was a bad guy he says the line: "Two things." Snipes says it with a hint of erudition, and it's a funny touch.

VII. The X(box) Factor

CGI has become plentiful of late, and one can't expect to see an action film without it. And in Blade II the filmmakers try some outrageous stuff (called L-Camera moves, where the camera spins around a CGI replicated human), and it's used all over the film. And one wants to salute the artists for their audacity, but when they CGI render humans for extended shots in the fight scenes you wish the filmmakers would pass the controller.

VIII. What About Guillermo Del Toro?

With his upcoming production of Hellboy and his popularity and friends at a couple of the major movie Web sites, Del Toro has become something of a fanboy favorite. He also seems to be taking the road of the maverick who makes one film for himself (in his case 1993's Kronos, 2001's The Devil's Backbone) and then one for the studios (1997's Mimic, Blade II). His concerns have mostly been for horror, and the film has a higher gross-out level than the first (which was more action-oriented), but here it's not all that much fun (the reaper's mouths split open to suck their victims, and one is given a detailed autopsy) — again, this ostensibly is excused by the "If it looks cool, it doesn't have to make sense" defense. That defense is too often used as a shortcut in Blade II, and Del Toro has repeatedly described this as his "fun" film, which leads this reviewer to believe he thought this would be a good commercial project that he invested less of himself into. And though he may have inserted his own concerns into the picture (he makes Nomak flawed, and makes the film about fathers and sons), these elements mostly get in the way. His spirit doesn't seem to be in it.

IX. What about the disc?

New Line's two-disc Blade II: Platinum Series presents the feature in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and — as should be expected of a film released on DVD the same year as it was theatrically — it looks great. The audio is also presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS-ES (the 6.1 format), and a Dolby 2.0 Surround mix. As with most modern blockbuster releases, your enjoyment of the film may fluctuate based on how loud you watch it and how many speakers you have. It should also be noted that New Line has now adapted keep-cases for all of their releases, as most DVD collectors don't like snap-cases. Bully for you, New Line.

Disc One contains two audio commentaries. The first is by Del Toro and producer Peter Frankfurt. There is something of a friendly rivalry between this track and the second audio commentary featuring Wesley Snipes (who was also a producer on the picture) and writer David Goyer, as barbs are shot at each group on both tracks. (Sadly, no one mentioned the "Popeye" scene as an homage.)

For the majority of the supplements, consult Disc Two. The biggest extra is the feature-length documentary A Pact in Blood (83:27), which covers pre-production, costumes, effects work, how the film was shot in Prague, the production design, costumes, fight choreography, and the score (by Marco Beltrami). Supplemented with on-the-fly icons, the viewer also can access additional supplements during the course of the documentary, or in its own section. There are five such moments: Comic Book Origins (5:49), the Vampire Mystique (5:19), on-set production footage of Damaskinos' Blood Bath(4:21), Alternate Sunrise Music (:30), and a listing of all the Percussion Instruments that were used to create the score.

That is only the first section in the Production Workshop section of the disc, as section two features Sequence Breakdown, six sections on key sequences. For Blood Bank (4:40), Ninja Fight (4:49), Reapers in the House of Pain (5:40), Underground (4:36), Chapel Fight (2:51), and Caliban (5:49) the viewer can access the on-set production footage, the original script (except on Caliban) and the shooting script, storyboards and visual effect notes (except on Chapel Fight) and the scene as it plays in the film. Whew.

Next up in the Production Workshop is a section for Visual Effects. It contains three self-descriptive featurettes. The first is Synthetic Stuntmen (6:05), which explains how Snipes was scanned in to a computer to do some of the more outlandish CGI work. The second is The Digital Maw, which shows where the make-up ends and CGI begins for the reaper vampires. The final one is the weightiest, Progress Reports (53:05), which shows the progress of the effects from molding to final design.

There are two more sections in Production Workshop: Notebooks, which shows sections of the director's notebook (with an intro by Del Toro), the script supervisor's notebook, and includes unfilmed script pages for three scenes: Whistler and Blade's First Meeting, Mini-Mart Attack, and Blade takes Nyssa to the hospital. The final section is the Art Gallery, which has still sections for Sequence and Concept, Props and Weapons, Costume Design, Set Design, Character Design, and Storyboards.

The next major section is Deleted and Alternate Scenes. This features 16 scenes, all presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 (and all in pristine condition). The section (24:28) runs with optional commentary by Del Toro and Frankfurt. The scenes are:

Not enough for you? The Promotional Material section offers the more standard fare. The Video Game Survival Guide (2:46) is just a commercial for the tie-in game, where the Theatrical Press Kit is just that. Two Trailers are included, the Teaser (:35) and the Theatrical (1:53), and what may be my favorite supplement, the Music Video for Cypress Hill and Roni Size's tie-in single "Child of the Wild West," which features paramedics running around giving tired and bored looking people headphones, which make them start dancing. It's a clever idea, and one that's executed briefly.

— Damon Houx

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