Blade II: David Goyer’s Disappointing Sequel, Again Starring Wesley Snipes

Gruesome and ghastly violence, state-of-the-art special effects, fast-moving action, and stylish cutting and framing can’t conceal the fact that at the center of Blade II there’s a big blank space, created by David Goyer’s slender, meandering, and uninvolving Vampire saga.

The gifted and handsome Wesley Snipes reprises the title role, first seen in New Line’s surprise 1998 hit, Blade, parading on the screen with flair and elegance. But though dressed stylishly in black leather, he’s given nothing interesting to say or to do as the comic book hero who’s half-human and half vampire.

Since the PG-rated E.T. The Extra Terrestrial is a fable family picture, New Line release faces no serious competition this weekend in the marketplace and hence is likely to have a strong opening (in the high $20 million), but it’s doubtful that Blade II will go beyond the core audience for such fare, and at the end of the day, Blade II will gross just slightly more than the original.

By now, it’s clear that there are two Guillermo Del Toro type of movies: the foreign ones made in his own language (the Mexican horror Cronos, and most recently the Spanish ghost story The Devil’s Backbone), and the American flicks, over which he has less control, such as the horror flick Mimic and now Blade II. Though new installment in New Line’s franchise is more proficiently directed than the first one, in many other respects, it’s not only lacking but inferior to the 1998 picture.

As in the fist film, based on Marvel Comics, Blade’s hybrid of a hero (or rather anti-hero) is consumed by an obsession desire to avenge the curse of his birth and save the human race from a blood-drenched Armageddon. Viewers are reminded that the blood in Blade’s veins is a result of a vicious vampire attack on his mother before he was born as half-human, half-vampire. The new horror actioner goes out of its way to validate Blade’s label of his enemies, “suck-heads,” with thick blood spurting form just about any part of the body in almost every scene, and special effects (some never seen before) that show step-by-step the disintegration of human bodies (and especially heads) until they become ashes-like fireworks, blown in the wind.

The new yarn is structured along a variety of family relationships: father-son, father-daughter, and even brother-sister. It was a good idea to bring back Whistler (Kristofferson), Blade’s mentor and weapons master, who has developed a serum that allows his surrogate son to be exposed to the daylight. Having lost his own family, Whistler has become a father figure to Blade ever since he was a kid lost on the streets. Now living in Prague (where the entire film was shot), Blade learns that Whistler is alive and sets out to find him. The scenes between Snipes and Kristofferson (who sports long white hair and has retained his deep throaty voice) are among the few that are emotionally engaging in a picture that’s otherwise a string of special effects attached to an extremely slight yarn.

One of the “novel” but dubious ideas of the second chapter is to show Blade’s different attitude toward his lifelong mtier, hunting vampires wherever they are. If in the first film, Blade was a brooding and reticent, in this one, he’s much more comfortable with his work, enjoying kicking-ass and taking his rivals one by one, or en masse. This thread offers helmer Del Toro an excuse to utilize ingredients of the increasingly Hollywoodized Hong Kong school of actioners, which account for some of the film’s most energetic and fun sequences.

Some tension is introduced over division of roles and responsibilities when Whistler joins Blade, since, in the meantime, Blade has been working with Scud (Reedus), a brilliant, pot-smoking slacker and inventor of devious weapons. Contrasting this bickering macho trio is another one, headed by Blade’s sworn enemy, vampire overlord Damaskinos (Kretschmann), his strong and darkly exotic daughter Nyssa (Varela), and her co-warrior Assad (Jules). Unexpectedly, Demaskinos offers Blade a truce in the name of a nobler mission: joining forces to stops the Reapers, a super-race of vampires, leeches who just drain blood.

The twist is that the Reapers are on a hunt not only for humans but also for vampires. To fight the Reapers and their razor sharp teeth and lighting speed, Blade is forced to align himself with a high-powered team of vampires. Switching gears, the tale now turns into a kind of The Dirty Dozen, with Blade leading a crew of hardened killers (claiming such names as Chupa, Priest, Snowman, Lighthammer) and their own chief, Reinhardt (a campy Ron Perlman).

The plot sounds more complex and complicated than it actually is. Indeed, what viewers mostly see is an aggressive, non-stop string of sensorial overkill special effects that, with few exceptions, at the end of the overly long picture, proves to be exhausting rather than exhilarating.

Unlike Del Toro’s previous films, each visionary and coherent in its own way (even the flawed Mimic), Blade II represents a blend of genres (thrillers, actioners, horror, vampire flicks) and styles, specifically neo-noir and the Hong Kong school. Entire sequences recall such quintessential movies as Ridley Scott’s Alien (in the way that mega closeups reveal the internal structure and shape of a human tongue or chest), James Cameron’s Aliens (in darkly-lit, often blueish interiors, such as tunnels and sewers).

And while the fight scenes show Snipes to be sexy and highly acrobatic, they arrest the little momentum the narrative has. For the most part, however, the visual effects stand on their own, and as such, are likely to please the core base of predominantly young male viewers.

Though Blade II is a big-budget, big-screen entertainment, it perfectly lends itself well to home video, where it’s bound to make a stronger commercial impression. On a weak, wintry night, global fans of comic strip books and videogames made into large-screen, effects-ridden fare may want to have a double-feature at their homes with Lara Croft Tomb Raider’s Angelina Jolie and Blade’s Wesley Snipes–albeit at their own risk.