Those vampires just never learn, but who said Blade was gonna stop teachin'?
The inimitable Mr. Snipes returns to reprise his role as the worlds premier African-American vampire slayer extraordinaire in this, Guillermo Del Toro's sequel to Stephen Norrington's 1998 action spectacular Blade. Having roundly bitch-slapped the vampire hordes back to Budapest in the first installment, Blade 2 sees our hero facing an even greater menace in the shape of the Reapers; a new super-strain of vampire so hard that they feed on their vanilla vampire brethren like you or I chomp Rice Krispies of a morning. Of course once they finish with vampires they will naturally continue to guzzle ordinary Joes like us, so Blade forms an uneasy alliance with the vampire leaders to combat the new threat. Can the odd pairing stop bickering long enough to exterminate the nasty Reapers? You're guaranteed a blast finding out.
The film begins with chief Reaper Nomak (Luke Goss; yes, him from eighties Brit-pop heartthrob group Bros) redefining the term 'blood bank' by rumbling a group of vampires who try to ambush him at a donation centre in Prague. This scene gives us an effective display of the Reapers' powers as Nomak pretty much decimates the place and has a good maniacal chuckle to himself while he does it. The weak of stomach should read this as a strong hint to bugger off, as there's even more of the red stuff on display here than in the previous film, and anyone who can't handle their claret will find themselves spending much of the two hour running time in the loo.
Having established the important fact that Reapers are well hard, we jump to a lively little scenario where Blade is attempting to recover his friend Whistler (Kris Kristofferson again on top scowling form) from the vampire clutches. It would seem Whistler was not in fact killed in the first installment; rather he was kept alive and tortured by his enemies, which understandably has the Blade-Meister somewhat miffed. What ensues is a virtuoso exercise in action appreciation that even manages to poke fun at The Matrix, which quite arguably ripped off the original's kung-fu stylings, by returning the favour and including a funky little snippet of bullet-time marksmanship. Many, many vampires get dispatched in a variety of painful ways, Whistler is rescued, and Blade even has time to stop and admire himself in the wing mirror of a car mid-battle. Any doubts as to the sequel's ability to live up to the pace and action of the original should by now be banished, and it only gets better.
After Whistler goes cold-turkey back at HQ, we are introduced to his substitute, Scud (Norman Reedus), an impetuous dope-smoking young lad who likes to crank everything up to he max and who manages to annoy Whistler intensely by having tinkered irresponsibly with the Blademobile. Introductions over, the lads are approached by the fanged ones about the possibility of putting aside their differences and joining forces to indulge in some super-violence. A hard offer to resist, and so Blade, Whistler and Scud meet the Blood Pack; an elite tactical unit of vampires specially trained to hunt Blade down. Understandably everybody's a bit skeptical of how far each can trust the other, and the Pack's leader Dieter Reinhardt (the dependable Ron Pearlman) makes it his mission to rub Blade up the wrong way throughout the remainder of the film. And so the hunt begins.
After being introduced to vampire overlord Eli Damaskinos and his slimy lawyer (is there another kind?) at the heart of his secret stronghold, the group set out to hunt Nomak's ass down and put an end to all this Reaper nonsense. Initially, the best way to do this is to go to a vampire nightclub (seriously) and pretty much shoot everybody there who gets in the way. It's tempting to describe Blade 2's action sequences in depth, but I wouldn't want to diminish anyone's enjoyment, since they really are things of lovingly choreographed beauty. Silver bullets fly, silver-edged blades swish, and swathes of blood-suckers go down in a plume of spectacularly glowing ashes. It's an effect viewers of the first film will remember well, and here, with a greatly increased effects budget, no expense is spared in showing you how well people dissolve, dissect and splatter.
From the nightclub me move on to various other set-piece locations, each showcasing some stunning effects, choreography and stuntwork. The film really does benefit greatly from the increase in budget, allowing Del Toro free reign to pull off outrageous manoeuvres that Norrington could only have dreamed of. The Reapers especially prove impressive, and the first time we see their (literally) jaw-dropping metamorphosis full-frame sticks in the mind as being of particular merit. Indeed there's very little to fault with the visual trickery, aside from some ever-so-slightly ropey CG stunt-work, but you'll easily forgive that.
The standard of martial arts on display is also of stunning quality, and again there's even more of it here than in the first film. Snipes again does all his own stunts and fighting, and in keeping with Blade's audacious and flamboyant fighting style there are plenty more of those camp and cunning manoeuvres that made the first film such a gem. Donnie Yen, who plays the Blood Pack's 'Snowman' was also the picture's main fight choreographer, and the boy has done a splendid job. If you loved the combat-deftness of Blade, this little minx will have you creaming in your pants and begging for buttermilk.
Script-wise Blade 2 is about as strong as you might ever hope to expect for an action film. It's never going to harbour Oscar desires, but it's certainly not the worst out there. The strongest link is again Kristofferson who pulls off a blinder or two in his uniquely grizzled, world-weary style, counterpointing some of the more OTT action with some down-to-earth observations of the sarcastic kind. He's certainly a man who knows how to handle his swear words, and anyone with a fondness for characters launching into faintly-provoked diatribes of a premier quality will find some really class material here. For anyone who cowers from sweary words...oh dear.
The action builds steadily to a final climax between Blade and Nomak that puts the battle between our hero and Stephen Dorff at the end of the previous film well in the shade. The two titans slog it out big style in a CG-enhanced finale that plays like a cross between a WWE cage match and World War 2, and when the action finally dies down you'll most likely be gasping for breath due to the sheer pace of it all. It's no surprise as to who wins, but that's not to say Big B doesn't suffer any loss.
There was some concern amongst fans of the first movie at the appointment of Guillermo Del Toro as director. Largely perceived as an 'arty' type, his only other previous foray into mainstream territory was the frankly dull Mimic. Here he puts the doubters to rest. Actually, no; rather he does the opposite and injects them square in the eyes with pure cinematic adrenaline that will leave any self-respecting action fan agog at just how good a vampire movie can really be when it's not taking itself too seriously. He keeps the pacing spot on, giving you just enough breather time between set-pieces whilst keeping the plot exposition points short enough to keep the attention and long enough to be informative.
Snipes is clearly enjoying himself even more immensely than when he first donned cape and sword, and is allowed to inject even more camp cool into his character this time around. He's a man who simply refuses to kill anyone unless he can look cool doing it, and he carries the film superbly well on his broad shoulders, proving believably bad-ass whilst remaining at all times humorous. His support from Kristofferson is again first rate, and the pair make quite an entertaining combination. The other cast members behave ably, with Leonor Varela as Damaskinos' daughter Nyssa a particular standout, even managing to make the Big Man go a little soft in the head. Luke Goss silences his doubters with an extremely decent show, and the afore-mentioned Ron Pearlman proves once again that he is one of the most solidly reliable supporting men around, cutting an imposing figure for Blade to square off against.
It's fair to say Del Toro and Snipes have done us proud. Blade 2 manages to take all the successful elements of it's predecessor and crank them all up to 11, whilst trimming away any unnecessary fat in the process. Not only does it top that movie, but it does it in even more style, with every frame oozing the kind of slick visual accomplishment most other action films can only dream of. It's also got a cracking soundtrack to accompany all that ass-kicking, with a host of black/white and hip-hop/house artists collaborating on some nonsensically thumping numbers that suit the ultra-cool mood to a tee.
I could quite probably rant on about this film until the cows come home, but you really should discover it for yourself. Snipes is a man who has taken some flack for consistently choosing hokey action numbers over more serious roles, of which be there no doubt he is extremely capable (see his award-winning turn in One Night Stand for evidence). The truth of the matter is he simply wants to make films that are a)fun for him, and b)fun for you. In teaming up with Del Toro he has paid his fans back in spades for their loyalty, and given them surely one of the finest action films of all time. Let there be no doubt, this is five-star stuff all the way. Hot damn.
Craig Disko faces the vampire hordes, dons his sunglasses, makes a cool quip and then dispatches them all unto the next realm, pausing only to award Blade 2 five out of five Disko Funk Units.
Kris Kristofferson (Whistler)
Leonor Varela (Nyssa Damaskinos)
Luke Goss (Nomak)