Blade II

As pretty much the only African-American actor with an action-film franchise in which race is never much of an issue, Wesley Snipes — who also co-produced 1998’s original Blade as well as this sequel — has understandably latched onto Blade, the cool and hard-boiled vampire slayer, as his shot at longevity after too many movies like Murder at 1600. He’s certainly unimpeachable as a spring-loaded bad-ass in the Blade films, but does anyone else miss the days when Snipes used to take chances and show his formidable stuff as both a comic and dramatic actor? Doesn’t he miss those days?

In Blade II, Snipes lightens up a little, but just a little; occasionally he lets Blade smile, but usually only when someone is fool enough to start shit with him. Blade still has little discernible personality; he wanders into dens of vampiric iniquity as if he belonged there (well, he sort of does — he’s half-vampire by birth) and cuts loose with state-of-the-art weaponry — including but not limited to his own body — until he’s the only one left standing. If you’re going to have an indomitable stick as a hero, you need quirky, fallible foils as his back-up, preferably played by quirky, infallible character actors; but these films only have eyes for Blade.

The sequel picks up Blade as he’s rescuing his mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) from the clutches of some Eurotrash vamps who’ve been keeping the old guy in a tank for years. This hasn’t much brightened Blade’s views of vampires, but soon enough some ninja-clad vamps are coming to him with a truce and a proposition. A particularly ugly breed of bloodsuckers known as Reapers (derived from a mutated new strain of the vamp virus) have been decimating the vampire population. “Good,” Blade might say. But the Reapers will also kill anything else that moves, including humans. Not so good.

Blade grudgingly signs on to help his former foes, aligned in a group cheerfully dubbed “the Blood Pack” and including the intimidating Ron Perlman as a bruiser named Reinhardt and the stylish-looking non-actress Leonor Varela as Nyssa, a vamp with impressive anatomical knowledge (she dissects a Reaper as if she did this every day) and a growing attraction to the movie’s star and co-producer. Once the exposition is out of the way, the majority of Blade II devotes itself to fight scenes between the Blood Pack and the Reapers. The movie has accordingly been compared to the Alien films, particularly Aliens, in the way it pits our heroes against hordes of relentless insensate evil. Here and there it’s startlingly well-mounted, but overall the movie is no more or less than a fancy shoot-’em-up.

Critics who should know better have placed gifts at the feet of director Guillermo del Toro, who has at least two fine horror films to his credit (1993’s Cronos and 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone). Del Toro is being praised here for bringing talent and brio to an action-horror sequel and then dropping most of the talent. A lot of what del Toro does here is indistinguishable from what any hotshot MTV director might do with the same script; there’s much computer-aided leaping about, much flashing of sharp objects and bodies flying apart into orange sparks. The Reapers are spectacularly hideous creations, but del Toro doesn’t find the beauty in that ugliness (as a great horror director might). The opposition here are just gross things to be eradicated.

Blade II is stupidly watchable, just as its predecessor was; these movies are obviously meant to be ass-kicking urban horror pieces, with no mystery or dread, just one set-piece after another in which Blade — and, by extension, the star and co-producer — is continually shown to be the coolest guy around, and also the most testosteronal. Snipes gets his voice way down low, enunciating with a hipster’s idea of machismo, yet again he doesn’t seem aware of the joke in it. Is Wesley Snipes afraid people still remember his drag-queen turn in To Wong Foo? He needs to get away from the latex and leather and get some real acting work, and his director needs to stop goofing around with sequels based on comic books. Blade II is passable for what it is, but what it is seems well beneath most of the participants.

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