Guillermo del Toro’s take on everyone’s favorite Marvel vampire debuted in the middle of a comic-book movie crossroads. Released four years after Stephen Norrington first brought the character to the big screen (a huge gap by today’s standards) and two years after Bryan Singer first adapted the X-Men for film, Blade II hit theaters just a few months before Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man broke the box office and changed the game forever. If Blade kicked off the second generation of comic-book films by achieving the simple yet difficult task of adapting a relatively well-known comic character in a successful action film and Singer’s X-Men took this second wave to the next level with an adaptation of a well-known group which yielded large financial rewards, Raimi’s film launched the genre to new heights, earning critical acclaim while smashing box-office records. While Blade lit the fuse, its sequel contributed little to the already rapidly changing landscape. Del Toro’s work on Mimic, Cronos, and El Espinazo del Diablo (The Devil’s Backbone) gave him the room to flex his muscles in the monster-horror genre and positioned him well to continue the Blade franchise. The second of three directors to make a Blade film, Del Toro picks up where Norrington left off, leaving Blade’s character mostly unchanged while folding in new elements.
At the beginning of the film, the Vampire Nation faces a new enemy which forces them to seek an uncomfortable truce with their long-time enemy Blade the Daywalker. Inspired by Blade’s genetic solutions to vampire weaknesses, Eli Damaskinos, the slimy and unseemly leader of the Vampire Nation, conducts secret genetic experiments to free vampires of their weaknesses. Damaskinos uses his son Nomak as the trial subject for a newly created virus and inadvertently creates the Reaper Strain, a new breed of vampires representing the next step in vampire evolution. Nomak and the Reapers are in essence super-vampires, stronger and faster than their counterparts and freed from their sensitivity to silver and garlic, but thankfully not sunlight. With these strengths comes a much stronger thirst for blood which forces the Reapers to feed much more than usual. Unlike typical vampires, The Reapers feed on both humans and vampires indiscriminately, forcing Damaskinos and the Vampire Nation to quell the spread of the Reapers before they wipe out both humans and vampires in a feeding frenzy. Here, Blade II blends Vampire mythos with Zombie tropes as the vampires and their new ally struggle to block Nomak and the Reapers from spreading the virus through the vampire population like zombies feasting their way through a crowd.
While all of this plot works fine in a movie pitch, it poorly fleshes out to fill a full film. Instead of exploring the mythos of the comics or that created in the first film, Blade II instead inserts a new threat and applies old tropes. The introduction of the Reapers, who make their first appearance in this film and are absent from the comics, allows the film to pursue Frankenstein-esque themes pitting a mad scientist against his abominable creation (see Ranting Foot-Note below for more discussion about this topic). Along with this story-line staple, other new characters bring the “I’ll work with you but I sure as hell won’t trust you” element as Blade is paired up with the Bloodpack, an elite group of vampires trained specifically to take out Blade but find themselves reassigned to take out the more imminent threat of the Reapers. Ron Perlman plays the leader of the Bloodpack and throughout the film he and Blade exchange several pursed-lip “When this is over, I’ll end you” conversations. Another newly introduced character provides another cheap twist which features little build-up and even less fall-out after the twist. For good measure, a sibling squabble between Nomak and his sister Nyssa gives us the “daddy always loved you more” plot point we all beg and plead for in an action flick. With the hindsight of 12 years of comic-book films, the story-arcs taste stale and add little to the genre but Snipes and the Reapers still offer a fun, if unsatisfying watch.
Blade II certainly features Frankenstein-esque qualities but it also makes the same mistakes as other would-be Frankenstein imitators. In Shelley’s original novel Dr. Frankenstein creates the Monster and spends the rest of his life lamenting his decisions, both the act of creating the Monster and the fallout of his separation from the creature. Like many other media, Blade II chooses instead to have one villain (Damaskinos) create another villain (Nomak), leaving our hero (Blade) to clean up the mess. The film creates a few discrete and sporadic moments during which we side with Nomak including when he lashes out against his father for creating him then abandoning him. But that plotline is never explored and wouldn’t really work even if Del Toro chose to spend time chasing it down. A degree of ambiguity surrounding Nomak is created in these scenes but the film’s ending is inevitable and therefore predictable. Blade and Nomak have their final showdown as expected and we forget to feel bad for the Monster of the film.
Blade II updates overused plot arcs and stacks them into a Vampire/almost-Zombie flick smothered in the special sauce of Wesley Snipes ass-kicking.
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Flashback/Backslide’s Marvel Blogathon continues Thursday, January 15th with a review of Spider-Man (2002). Check out the most recent entry into the Blogathon; a review of 2000’s X-Men.
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