Blade II, a film about killing vampires, is a bit of a bloodsucker in its own right. In keeping with the normally commendable one-upmanship that drives Hollywood sequels these days, it’s determined to be bigger, flashier and just plain longer than the 1998 original, which was a surprise box-office hit. The $30 million opening weekend for this sequel certainly managed a bit of one-upmanship.
It’s proficiently made by Mexican art-house-favorite director Guillermo Del Toro and screenwriter David Goyer, and it delivers the noise, bombast and cool FX you expect from a popcorn movie. But by the final scenes, you’re so drained from the overbearing sensory assault that you can lose sight of the clever plot dynamics and cool stylistic touches that gave Wesley Snipes his first franchise role. All you can see is the next scene—and given Del Toro’s derivative style, you’ve probably seen it before.
Remember the Marvel Comics setup: Blade is a half-vampire (his mother was bitten by a vampire while pregnant) who possesses all of Dracula’s strengths but none of his weaknesses, except that pesky craving for blood. His mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), developed a serum to keep Blade’s bloodlust in check so he can spend every free moment killing vampires to protect us humans. We thought Whistler shot himself at the end of the first movie, but it turns out he missed. Instead, he was just kidnapped and held in suspended animation for two years, which also explains Kristofferson’s acting.
Our heroes are visited by representatives from the Vampire Nation (not to be confused with the Rhythm Nation, though Janet Jackson’s abs are supernatural in their own right) who want Blade to form an unlikely alliance with them against the Reapers, a race of supervamps who feast on both vampires and humans. Unless the Reapers are beaten, everybody’s gonna die, so Blade agrees to take charge of an elite team of killer ninja vampires called the Bloodpack. Armed with UV-light grenades, silver bullets and irresistible techno beats, Blade goes to work.
Snipes’ Blade still has the worst fade this side of the 1978 Boston Red Sox. Aside from his haircut, however, he’s a slick superhero with charisma to spare. What’s more, Blade seems to enjoy the action much more than he did in the first film, disposing of bushels of the undead with positive zest instead of mute disdain.
This is Del Toro’s first film since The Devil’s Backbone, a marvelous juggling act of political symbolism and a great ghost story. He returns to the roots he set down in his earlier films Cronos and Mimic, with amber-lit hallways and super-fast action scenes, though he also indulges in flashy special effects and Snipes’ trademark hand-to-hand combat.
The creepy-crawly aspects of the film’s visual effects are outstanding, particularly a Cronenberg-esque Reaper autopsy that’ll have you leaving bruises on your date’s forearm. But Del Toro seems much more sure of himself away from the fighting, which frequently gets too repetitive and too confusing to follow. There’s even a moment of sublime silliness in which Blade throws a WWF-style smackdown move on some poor bastard, denting the concrete with a pile driver.
Blade II simply takes itself too seriously, with a whole Greek-tragedy subplot about familial machinations within the Vampire Nation that just doesn’t have a lot to do with Blade’s ass-kicking duties. Del Toro’s attempt to improve on the original results in a film that gets everything out of balance. The action is too heavy on gore and Matrix-style effects, while the plot is light in all the wrong places. There’s plenty of fun to be had with these vampires, but they can also be a drain.