“It fixes a lot of things from the first film, but it messes up some others.”
So the reason I started a Blade marathon was because the second film, the one that I’m reviewing today, was directed by Guillermo del Toro. For those who don’t know I’ve been going through and watching all of Guillermo del Toro’s films over the past little while, and Blade II was one that was missing from my list. Having never seen Blade II I didn’t really know what to expect, and it turns out that my mistake was thinking of this film as a Guillermo del Toro film instead of a Blade sequel. With that in mind this review isn’t going to touch much on where this fits into other Guillermo del Toro films, it’s more so going to talk abut what worked and didn’t work. So Blade II is the sequel to the 1998 film Blade, and it picks up roughly two years after the first film ends. This time Blade, the half vampire/half human vampire hunter, will have to team up with the creatures he despises most to defeat a common enemy.
So the first thing I noticed about Blade II was, much like Evil Dead 2, it kind of threw continuity to the wind. The filmmakers wanted to tell a story, and they didn’t give a shit if that story fit into the already existing canon or not. Of course I’m talking bout the inclusion of Whistler in Blade II. Why he is alive isn’t really explained, what happened to him isn’t really explained, but the writer knew that he wanted Whistler in the movie so there he is. This is the first tip-off as to what I was getting myself into with Blade II. Blade, while entertaining, took itself pretty seriously and most of its faults related to that. Blade II on the other hand had a lot more fun with the idea of a vampire hunter. It didn’t go completely off the deep end into absurdity, but it did dip its toes in the water more than a few times. Something I liked about Blade II was that it leaned more into the horror aspect of the universe as well. The first Blade was pretty much an action movie, but Blade II in comparison has a lot more horror elements added into it. This worked very well because it saved the film from feeling stale at a few key moments, but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows unfortunately. One thing that this horror inclusion impacted were the fight scenes in Blade II. The story of Blade II revolves around a group of vampires led by blade that are hunting the carriers of a vampire-killing virus. This is a cool plot, but unfortunately what this turns into throughout a lot of the film is a zombie movie. You have this group of characters who are fighting hordes of generic enemies in an almost war-of-attrition style of combat. They grow weak, they exhaust every opportunity they have, and they look around wondering how they are still being overrun. It’s a brilliant way to shoot a zombie film, but Blade isn’t a zombie film. The first film had its share of “faceless hordes” in terms of bad guys, but at least that film would show Blade using a variety of moves and gadgets to kill them in awesome ways. Blade II just kind of defaults to the ‘horror’ side of things for every instance of combat, and it loses a lot of the flavour that the first film had. Not all fights were like this, there were a few instances with the good old fashioned Blade fights that we know and love (both the guard fight and the final showdown), but in large the one part I loved about this franchise seemed kind of neutered in this sequel.
One thing that this added horror element changed for the better were the designs in the film. The first Blade was cool to look at, but for the most part it didn’t delve into the ‘monster’ side of vampires. Once again, it tried to ground itself in reality even though the story was pretty outlandish. Blade II remedies this and pulls a lot of design inspiration from the classic interpretations of vampires. Not only are the ‘vampire elders’ not just a bunch of stuffy dudes in suits anymore, but it’s now this weird green dude who looks like Dracula. The infected enemies, though kind of generic in nature, each resembled a creature similar to Nosferatu. These designs were not only great to look at, but they proved that Blade hasn’t forgotten its roots. Paying homage to these sold franchises was not only a nice gesture, but a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. What made these designs even better in my eyes was the fact that the effects in Blade II were consistently surprising to me. Released in 2002, arguably in the peak of the “shit CGI” era, Blade II manages to deliver digital effects that are at worst “alright”. The effects, specifically a lot of the really close-up effects like the enemies’ mouths splitting open, still hold up so well that I wouldn’t have been surprised if you told me they were recently remastered. One thing that was almost a problem effects-wise was the use of “rubber men” for a lot of the action scenes. This is a problem that most would recognize from things like The Matrix where, instead of using actors flying around fighting each other, it is decided to use a completely CGI character and then attempt to seamlessly edit them into the film. I say that this is almost a problem because although it was noticeable in Blade II, I found the direction of the film to hide a lot of those crimes. And that goes for quite a few of the effects as well. The camerawork in Blade II not only made a lot of scenes feel more cinematic, but they were shot in such a way that it hid a lot of the telltale signs of poor CGI. This shows a brilliant understanding from the director about what does and doesn’t work in terms of CGI. But easily the worst part of Blade II were the performances. Blade II brings a lot of new people on board including Ron Perlman, Norman Reedus, Donnie Yen and others, but the prevailing commonality between them all is that they all gave fucking awful performances. I’m not sure what led to this, but there isn’t one performance in this film that isn’t fucking terrible. They are all campy and flat, and I don’t understand how anybody though it was okay. Sure Blade II isn’t an important film, but at least try a little. The worst offender in this regard is easily Leonor Varela who played Nyssa in the film. Her performances are so fucking flat that I was afraid she might slip through a crack in the floor. I understand that Blade II isn’t the be-all-end-all for your career, and maybe it’s not where you thought you’d end up when you dreamed of being an actor, but at least give it a shot, yeah? And singling her out isn’t a personal attack, it’s just because her performance was the one that made me realize everything around me had turned to shit.
Overall Blade II is a pretty solid sequel to a pretty cool movie. It fixes a lot of things from the first film, but it messes up some others. One thing that surprised me when watching Blade II were how well the effects held up. Blade II is a great movie to watch if you want to laugh bit and see some cool monsters, but if you are looking for a good story and passable performances I would look elsewhere.
I give Blade II a B