BLADE II: The Dark Knight Returns

Blade II (2002) – Directed by Guillermo del Toro – Starring Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Leonor Varela, Norman Reedus, Luke Goss, Thomas Kretschmann, Danny John-Jules, Donnie Yen, and Tony Curran.

BLADE II is one of the most successfully stylish films I’ve ever seen.

Even if the story sucked (and it doesn’t), I could watch BLADE II and enjoy it simply for how cool it looks, moves, and sounds. With Guillermo del Toro stepping into the director’s chair for Stephen Norrington, the BLADE franchise loses a bit of its grittiness and gains some flash in return. The main elements still remain, however: BLADE II is an R-rated superhero/horror film full of violence and blood, and Wesley Snips and Kris Kristofferson still provide the rock-solid narrative backbone.

One of the best decisions made concerning BLADE II was to tell a new story instead of simply redoing the first story; the stakes are amped up here, first by having Blade (Snipes) searching for his mentor/mechanic Whistler (Kristofferson) and leaving a trail of dead vampire bodies throughout Eastern Europe. When he finds the old man, Whistler is being held in a vat of blood, the vampires regenerating his body after they bit him and he offed himself in the first film. Blade brings Whistler to his temporary HQ, which he now shares with a new tech guy, Scud (Norman Reedus), and forces him on a one-night detox that does, admittedly, feel like a bit of a plot contrivance to get us from where we started to resetting the old Whistler. The film builds on this idea, though, teasing us with the possibility that Whistler’s vamp time has altered his allegiances.

The new HQ is attacked by some vampire assassins who are dressed in such a way that they now look like early costume designs for del Toro’s later Hellboy, Hellboy 2, and Pan’s Labyrinth films.

All of this happens within the first few sequences of the movie, and you can already tell that del Toro is going for a more stylish approach to the material. In the first BLADE, there was an attack on Blade and Whistler’s HQ by some vampires, and just like last film their current HQ is some kind of abandoned factory. The attack itself is rendered very differently this time around, however, as del Toro makes these vamps highly trained assassins, so there’s lots of jumping and flipping, lots of sword fighting and kicking, and lots of visual flair, both in terms of how the action is filmed and in the film’s color palette. Del Toro likes to paint his scenes with highly saturated colors to balance off all the darkness that’s unavoidable in a movie with vampires.

The two attacking vamps (dressed in head-to-toe black leather and goggles) reveal themselves to be Nyssa (Leonor Varela) and Asad (Danny John-Jules), and there’s a nice twist in that they’re coming to Blade to ask for his help. They bring him to meet one of the Big Bad Vamps, Eli Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann), who tells Blade there’s a new breed of mutated vamp out there who are feasting on vampires. Blade, of course, doesn’t see an issue with this, but then Damaskinos makes the point that when the Reapers are done feasting and turning regular vampires, where else are they gonna go except to eat humans?

It’s a rather simple but highly effective premise as Blade and his enemies are forced to work together. Nyssa and Asad have been training and leading the Blood Pack, a group of vampire assassins that are being trained to kill Blade. Nobody is happy about this, but the vampire Reinhardt (Ron Perlman) takes the lead on the anti-Blade rhetoric, and it’s a wise move because Reinhardt is, well, because Reinhardt is Ron Perlman. Perlman and Snipes have great chemistry together, in that Perlman is taller, grunts louder, and looks perfectly willing to stand toe-to-toe with Blade. Reinhardt functions as the Evil Whistler, in many regards, as they’re both the old curmudgeon/mentor figure of their respective units. One of the best aspects of BLADE II is simply listening to Whistler spout profanities around at Blade, Scud, Reinhardt, and anyone else who gets in his way.

BLADE II expertly uses action sequences to advance the narrative; instead of having a bunch of set pieces in between all the killing to build the plot, BLADE II is just as likely to introduce story elements inside the action sequences as it is during the downtime, such as questioning Whistler’s allegiances or introducing a subplot concerning Nomak (Luke Goss), the first Reaper, not killing Nyssa during a big Blood Pack vs. Reapers fight. It’s a simple but highly effective storytelling technique, as it makes the action exist for reasons beyond the cinematic coolness of watching vampires and Reapers and half-vampires and humans kill each other.

By having two enemy factions working together, the constant question is not if there’s going to be a betrayal of the uneasy alliance, but when the two sides are going to betray the other. Eventually it’s Blade who gets taken out by the Blood Pack, and then he, Whistler, and Scud are brought to Damaskinos’ lair, where Scud reveals he’s one of Damaskinos’ familiars. Blade knew this, of course, and there’s a good bit of comedy as he detonates a small bomb that had been connected to Reinhardt’s skull. Scud is all, “Ha, ha, B, it’s a fake!” and then outs himself as a spy, and Blade tells him, “No, it’s not,” and then triggers the bomb, causing Scud to explode.

It’s a pretty funny moment in a movie without a lot of funny in it. Most of the humor comes from the characters trash talking each other, and it provides the right amount of levity to all of the serious talk focusing on the Reaper problem.

The ending sees Damaskinos revealed as the creator of the Reaper virus and then everyone kills each other, with only our heroes making it out alive. It’s fitting that the film sets up Damaskinos as the father of Nyssa and “father” of Nomak, as their dysfunctional unit eventually sees all of them dead, while the dysfunctional family of Blade and Whistler survives.

BLADE II is another excellent edition to the Marvel catalog, and one that only gets better with repeated viewings.