Roller Blade

So long as it keeps moving, Blade II entertains

Looking at the original Blade now, it's not as impressive as it seemed at the time; its hugely positive reception among the comic-book crowd may have been the result of it simply not sucking. It came out before The Matrix brought Hong Kong-style wires and trenchcoats to the world's attention, and also before The Phantom Menace's impressive level of CG-realism. Star Wesley Snipes clearly pays attention to Hong Kong cinema, and on that score Blade looks prescient. The digital effects, however, have aged very badly--much of the blood is blatantly computerized, and the digital skeletons that pop out of the vampires at the end have since been surpassed by some video games.

Blade II, then, is forced to play catch-up and on the visual score does so admirably. Vampire skeletons not only shatter; they burst into flame, then shatter, then leave ashes that scatter to the winds. A severed fragment of head contains an eye that continues to look around. Vampires un-break their own bones and perform open-spine surgery on one another. Mexican horror director Guillermo Del Toro is at the helm this time and brings in many of his own peculiar fascinations, such as rust, sewers, things floating in hazy translucent liquid, graphic dissection, addiction metaphors, S&M gear and Ron Perlman (Cronos).

As for the action, it's mostly up to what we've come to expect. The new villains this time around are the Reapers, a new mutant vampire strain impervious to everything but sunlight, and they can walk up walls and fly through the air like Moria Orcs caught in the Matrix. Blade himself has also gained some hang-time abilities, though these are left unexplained, not like anyone cares.

The buff vampire slayer: Wesley Snipes tells some soon-to-be-ass-whipped vampirish dude to talk to the hand.
The buff vampire slayer: Wesley Snipes tells some soon-to-be-ass-whipped vampirish dude to talk to the hand.

Turns out Blade's father-figure Whistler (Kris Kristofferson, looking great) didn't really die in the first film, and is brought back early on in the sequel--conveniently for the movie's budget, he's being held in Czechoslovakia--mostly to act disgruntled and call people names like "Nipple-head." Since Snipes' acting technique for these films is to be a taciturn sourpuss, the pair might be insufferable if not for the addition of a new sidekick, Scud (Norman Reedus), a sort of stoner Q who calls Blade "B" and designs various new weapons like a solar flare bomb and a fist strap-on that injects undead foes with anti-coagulant.

Meanwhile, an ancient vampire count who looks and sounds like a marble statue of Max Schreck has sent his perfectly normal-looking daughter Nyssa (Leonor Varela), who emotes almost as well as a block of marble, to make a truce with Blade so that the unpleasant Reapers can be dealt with as a team. Proving the casting directors are hip, the team of vampires Blade hooks up with include Red Dwarf's Cat Danny John Jules, Ron Perlman and Iron Monkey star Donnie Yen (sorely underutilized, but at least they have him). It's worth noting also that the head Reaper is played by former UK teen heartthrob Luke Goss, taking his image all the way in the opposite direction. Think Justin Timberlake with a fanged, vaginal mouth following excessive chemotherapy, and you're close (too bad Toy Biz opted out of doing action figures this time around).

Del Toro's visual style is a good fit for this type of film, and he draws inspiration from Clive Barker and David Cronenberg. It's unfortunate that he's bogged down with a script by Marvel co-chairman Avi Arad's favorite hack screenwriter, David S. Goyer, who was responsible for that god-awful Nick Fury TV movie with David Hasselhoff. Yes, Goyer wrote the first Blade, but director Stephen Norrington smartly kept the dialogue to an absolute minimum. (Although he did leave in possibly the most nonsensical hero-quip ever: "Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice-skate uphill!" What?) Del Toro's first language isn't English, so maybe it isn't as obvious to him that long stretches of dialogue like, "You have been our most feared enemy, but now there's something worse on the streets," should have been chopped out during the project's development phase. A crib from Star Wars and a reference to rival comic publisher DC's The Dark Knight Returns aren't helpful either.

As fun as the action is, the pacing is off. Most of the blowout battles occur early on, and the momentum completely falters once most of the cast has been killed off, leaving Snipes to battle an arch-foe in an anti-climactic one-on-one fight. Perhaps a better female lead is needed: N'Bushe Wright got Snipes to show his softer side in the first one. Here, he's a mere killing machine, but since we don't ever see the vampires killing innocent humans, we don't feel his anger.

Nonetheless, there's plenty here to enjoy, and fans of Hong Kong-style action should be reasonably happy. The movie's soundtrack is also a strong contender for best of 2002, pairing up hip-hop and techno acts like Redman/Gorillaz, Bubba Sparxx/Crystal Method and so forth. Just be advised, guys, Blade II is as estrogen-free as movies get, so you might want to leave your date behind for this one, or she's gonna make you feel like you owe her big-time.

 
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