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Blade II   A-

New Line Cinema

Year Released: 2002
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writer: David S. Goyer
Cast: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Leonor Varela, Ron Perlman, Luke Goss, Donnie Yen, Norman Reedus.

Review by Rob Vaux

It must be the end of the world: the best film so far this year is a franchise sequel starring Wesley Snipes. Blade II contains the usual cocktail of violent action and special effects, but it gets an unexpected twist from director Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro makes horror movies -- real horror movies, not the glorified in-jokes passing as such -- and his auteurial stamp gives Blade II a fearsome gore-soaked bite.

The original Blade featured Snipes as a sort of kung-fu Van Helsing, a "human-vampire hybrid" with all the benefits of his undead foes and none of the weaknesses. He cracked open a Grade-A can of whoop-ass on every bloodsucker he met, and the film would have been great had they given him a decent bad guy to fight. Unfortunately, Stephen Dorff's Lord of the Weenies utterly failed to measure up. It was like watching Bruce Lee fight your snotty kid brother; the results all but sank the film.

But that was then, this is now. Not only does Blade II find Snipes some real villains, but it has the guts to make them truly frightening. The film opens with Blade in Prague, hoping to find his missing mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). He soon receives a message from the bloodsuckers he ruthlessly hunts -- asking for a truce. A mutant breed of vampire has emerged, unstoppable monstrosities with a thirst for undead blood. They breed prodigiously, too, and unless Blade joins forces with his old adversaries to stop them, they'll soon overwhelm the world.

It's standard comic-book material, but Blade II doesn't skimp on the whiz-bang factor. Blade is a 21st-century hunter, eschewing crosses and holy water in favor of UV spotlights and silver-nitrate bullets. His toys are loads of fun, as are those of his undead compatriots. The filmmakers trundle them out with the glee of a kid at Christmas, before cutting them loose in the film's numerous fight sequences. Martial arts choreographer Donnie Yen designed some suitably kinetic battle scenes, which make fine use of Snipes' impressive physical skills. And have no doubt -- the man was born to play this role. Few actors have the right combination of imposing presence and dark charisma to make Blade such a compulsively watchable character. He was terrific in the first film, but he really seems to be having fun here -- helped out by stalwart support from Kristofferson and Ron Perlman (as one of Blade's erstwhile vampiric allies), among others.

Yes, it's all solid stuff... although, nothing anyone will remember a year from now. Had Blade II contented itself with high kicks and hardware, it would have been an entertaining but ultimately forgettable piece of froth. The thing that pushes it further than we had any right to hope is del Toro's unique flair for the truly repellant. His previous films dredged up images of pure nightmare -- hordes of insects, rotting science labs, unspeakable horrors hidden behind barely-closed doors. He brings those sensibilities to every frame of Blade II, covering the high-tech gloss with a sheen of sickly yellows and reds. His crowning achievement is the über-vampires, the "new breed" which Blade must contend with. Hairless and feral with bulging veins visible beneath their flesh, they hide an insect-like feeding mechanism beneath their barely-human facade. I defy you not to squirm like fresh bait when the head villain's writhing proboscis splits out of his jaw. It's a perverse joy to see mainstream Hollywood married so elegantly to such a disturbing visual style.

Have no doubt, the viscera flies thick and fast in Blade II. The R rating on this thing is a joke; I'm 29 and I don't think I'm old enough to see it. But if you have the stomach, and you want to see what an action-horror film is truly capable of, Blade II puts on a show you won't forget. 2001 produced an impressive number of good horror movies. It's nice to see 2002 give us a near-great one.

Review published 03.25.2002.

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