Sunday, August 09, 2009

“You've been training for two years to take me out, and now here I am. Whew! Ooh, so exciting, isn't it?”

Well fina-damn-ly. Its time to take a look at 2002’s Blade II, a sequel to Blade (obviously) but this time, Guillermo del Toro was behind the helm, steering the vampire slaying ship toward Eastern Europe and giving audiences a closer look at the political machinations of the vampire world. Contextually, this movie comes after the debuts of some high profile comic book movies like X-Men and Spider-Man, and Marvel was much less shy about having their logo planted on the film. It didn’t hurt that del Toro is himself an unabashed comics fan either.

After tracking down the not-quite-dead body of his mentor in Prague, a vampire slayer gets a curious offer of temporary alliance when the vampires that oppose him face a new strain of bloodsucker that feeds on human and vampire alike. Sounds like a simple vehicle for our hero to kill Euro-trash vampires, right? Well…the third act throws a lot of twists at the audience that throw things into a more…dynastic light.

Blade: Wesley Snipes is once more the sunglasses wearing, heroically sociopathic dhampir. Blade finds himself in an awkward position when the Vampire Nation offers a truce. Of course he doesn’t trust the bastards and at various points displays an incredible level of magnificent bastardness that reminds everyone why he’s a bogeyman for vampires across the world. Blade is also a lot quicker with the quips in this film, throwing out one-liners with a disturbing smile (considering the character). He even gets some tender moments when he finds his mentor, Whistler and with Nyssa at the end. Easily this film’s Badass for his level of contingency planning (and for attaching a bomb to the back of a guy’s head).

Whistler: Kris Kristofferson returns as Blade’s crotchety- Wait. Didn’t he die in the last movie? He did. Or DID he???? Apparently the Vampire Nation got a hold of him and kept him in a weird state of life/undeath so they could torture him and use him as bait to lure Blade to Prague so he could take care of their reaper problem. He’s still a badass in this film, and actually manages to be even surlier than before (coming back from the dead will do that to you), but doesn’t get as much time to shine what with all the other characters populating the screen. The movie also dangles the idea that he might be a traitor to the cause because of his mysterious disappearances, but you never really get the feel that he actually would betray Blade.

Scud: Norman Reedus (one of the McManus brothers from The Boondock Saints) is Blade’s replacement Whistler. He’s a tech-head with an eye for making vampire-killing gear and vies with Whistler for surly one-liners.

Damaskinos: One of (if not the) Grand Poobahs of the Vampire Nation, he’s a frail, positively ancient bloodsucker geezer that recruits Blade to eliminate the reaper-strain of vampires, since, well, after the new guys finish off the vamps, who else will they turn to for food? He’s just…creepy, but you realize that a vampire like that doesn’t get ancient without good reason, and there’s more to Damaskinos than he lets on.

Nyssa: Chilean actress Leonor Varela is Damaskinos’ daughter, she’s sent to recruit Blade for the job, and the two kind of, sort of bond despite being on opposite sides of the war. He’s a Daywalker bent on slaying them, she’s the leader of a black-ops vampire team called the Bloodpack trained to take him down. You bet there’s a bit of sexual tension. Speaking of the Bloodpack…

Reinhardt: Ron Perlman is easily the most competent of the Pack, a shades wearing, almost totally bald shotgun toting badass who doesn’t hide the fact that he really doesn’t like Blade. He’s definitely a villain, but the question is, who’s he working for, really?

Asad: The other vampire sent with Nyssa to recruit Blade (and something like a lieutenant for her), he’s played by Danny John-Jules, who voiced one of the Fierys in Labyrinth and apparently played Cat (an evolved human-shaped cat) on TV’s Red Dwarf.

Priest: Tony Curran (who was the redheaded, non-tattooed Viking in The 13th Warrior who made it all the way through the film) isn’t in the film much. He’s a pro-pureblood vampire, ready and willing to slaughter turned vampires. He’s the first of the Bloodpack to fall to the reapers, but not without a fight.

Chupa: Matthew Schulze is one of the bigger vampires (and wearing a chain mail shirt for a while). He shares Reinhardt’s sentiments about working with the Daywalker. He gets really pissed about Priest’s death. Actually, he gets pissed about a lot of stuff easily. He’s the easily pissed off one.

Snowman: Big name martial artist/actor Donnie Yen is the silent, katana wielding member of the Bloodpack. Sadly, aside from one pretty cool fight scene, he doesn’t get a whole lot to do in the film.

Lighthammer: Daz Crawford plays the big, largely silent, Maori-face tattooed big guy of the Bloodpack. He’s got a big honkin’ hammer that looks anything but light. Sadly, he’s a case of wasted potential as he’s not nearly as badass as you would hope.

Verlane: Marit Velle Kile is the redheaded vampire who’s the lover of Lighthammer. Aside from one complication near the end of the second act, that’s about as far as her character goes.

Jared Nomak: Oh yeah, the bad guy (well, the bad guy who’s the most urgent threat). Luke Goss’ Nomak looks like a homeless bald guy, which isn’t very scary, until his face opens up like the Predator and he starts killing vampires that turn into other reapers. He’s apparently a carrier for the reaper strain, a mutation of vampirism (which is now referred to as a virus, so in the Blade universe, vampirism is a biological, not mystical condition). The hunger is particularly nasty for reapers. They need blood like junkies need a hit, and he can feed off of vampires as well as humans, the side effect being that vampires killed this way turn into reapers themselves. Unlike Nomak himself, the regular reapers are more zombie-like (fast zombie that is) in their behavior (and lack of coherent speech) and they’re pretty damn creepy when you see them swarming through a suspiciously large, old world sewer at the heroes. However, as the movie progresses, there’s more to Nomak than what’s initially presented, and allows for some tragic elements into his characterization.

Guillermo del Toro is a damn good director, no doubt about that. His shots are well lit, staged and framed, but its also clear that Blade II looks different from the first one. For one thing, the Prague underworld is much more colorful than New York in the movie, and the overarching visual sense of the characters’ isolation isn’t present (probably due in part to the sheer number of characters on screen). Its certainly not a bad thing, and I like what del Toro has done with shooting this movie, but, I really liked that stark, isolated look from the first movie because, in a way, it provided most of the character subtext for Blade.

That said, the visual effects are a huge step forward from the first movie. The reapers are just creepy in their design (and well realized), the movie is particularly gory and squicky in places, and as vampires die, they ignite before turning to ash this time around. The CGI has improved quite a bit, though some of the fight scenes use computer graphics to substitute for actual actors. Those scenes aren’t bad or badly done, but you can tell that the figures are slightly off in those parts.

Action scenes are well done, generally well shot and provide nice visuals. Blade fighting two vampire ninjas against a wall of UV lights is a groovy idea but unfortunately, the CGI “stuntmen” are a little too obvious. The final battle with Nomak is brutal, and the shootout in the sewer is full of that “how the hell are they gonna get out of this?” that caps off the second act nicely. Oddly enough, the only times the movie really goes for more closeups and quick cuts are when Blade fights Nomak.

David S. Goyer once again behind the keyboard, though the movie also credits Blade’s creators Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan (two well known names in comics) for, um, creating Blade. Anyway, the writing is pretty good. The first movie stayed on its rails until the plot reached the station, but here Goyer adds in intrigue and at least three twists by the end of the film. One of the twists is just kind of tossed in for the hell of it with no foreshadowing, but the other two parts are handled better. Dialog is good, no complaints there. Unfortunately, most of the Bloodpack only have a scene or two to stand out from the background. They don’t really feel like the credible, well-trained unit we’re told they are. Instead, most of them feel like throwaway fodder with an occasional gimmick (poor, poor Lighthammer).

The original score by Marco Beltrami and Danny Saber peeks its head up from the ambient background for a couple very good moments. In that, its superior to the previous movie’s. The commercial soundtrack of techno and hip-hop continues to be appropriate for action scenes and ass whoopin.’

Blade II is, once more, a solid action movie. It introduces more characters and a few plot twists that mostly work without overflowing the basic idea of “Blade kills Vampires a lot” with a bloated, ponderous movie. Its not quite as streamlined as the first movie, but its by no means bad, and I found myself sitting there watching going “you know what? I like this franchise. These are fun to watch movies.” When you boil it down away from my verbose penchant for pretentious superlatives and thirty dollar words, that’s the whole point of a movie, right?

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