A huge disappointment and possibly one of the most grotesquely screwed up movies of all time, Blade II flip-flops back and forth between being one of the more interesting horror films of recent vintage and one of the worst — which makes for perhaps the most frustrating movie going experience of the season, if not the year. As a sequel to the immensely popular Blade, it probably passes muster in terms of a faithful follow-up (even the manner in which Kris Kristofferson’s Whistler character is brought back to life makes sense within the story’s own fantasticated logic). Here, Blade (Wesley Snipes) joins forces with the “vampire nation” to defeat a new breed of super vampire. Beyond that, however, it’s a case of trying to blend something that’s more-of-the-same with something that’s not. A lot of the problem with Blade II is also the factor that makes the film of more than passing interest: Guillermo Del Toro. Bringing Del Toro to the project probably seemed like a good idea. Del Toro, after all, is one of the most original genre filmmakers we have, as he has proven with Cronos, Mimic and (the still unseen locally) The Devil’s Backbone. Despite the popular success of Mimic, Del Toro was almost certain chosen for Blade II based on the strength of his quirky, moody rethinking of the vampire picture, Cronos. Blade II resembles Cronos, on those occasions that it slows down long enough to resemble anything other than a really bad martial-arts movie made by someone whose brain melted down after too much exposure to MTV. In Cronos, Del Toro presented a different kind of vampire — a slightly comic, slightly sad one created by a weird clockwork device encasing a repugnant organism that carries the virus causing vampirism. It was a very personal interpretation and a blending of Del Toro’s own concerns with the kind of “organic horror” seen in David Cronenberg’s best films. Something similar occurs here, with a “new breed” of vampire that feeds on its own kind via a reworked lower jaw that is more like a mutated insect mandible than anything human; this is very much in keeping with both Del Toro and Cronenberg (not to mention the specialized vampire of Stuart Gordon’s Daughter of Darkness). This aspect of Blade II works, along with a terrifically creepy atmosphere (true to his word, Del Toro did make a far more unsettling movie than the original), brilliant touches and moments of genuine gothic poetry. Unfortunately, not much else works. After a marvelous opening sequence, Del Toro’s film plunges headlong into about 40 minutes of nonstop retreading of Blade — minus any sort of originality or much in the way of plot. It’s simply a lot of nonstop carnage of the sort we saw in the original. Blade does a lot of wire-work acrobatics and hacks his way through an assortment of vampires, most of whom seem to have escaped from a goth rave. I’ll give it this much: The exploding vampire effects look much better this time. The problem is that four or five exploding bloodsuckers are impressive and entertaining; 40 or 50 are merely repetitive and boring, no matter how much flashy cutting, inapt hip-hop music and acrobatic nonsense is employed. Apart from one good encounter between Blade and this new breed of vampire on a catwalk (a scene very reminiscent of one in front of a billboard in Cronos), the action in the movie just isn’t well-handled. It’s not only that it’s mostly a haphazard jumble of largely confusing fight scenes, but the approach is so wrong-headed that it becomes both tedious and unintentionally funny. Del Toro cuts away from one action scene to another, then returns to the first only to pick up the first scene exactly where it left off: Apparently, the action freezes in place when we aren’t there to watch it. Unlike his earlier work, Del Toro seems here incapable of fusing horror and intentional humor, too. Apart from the requisite one-liners, the comedy here exists in a separate sub-plot with a comical vampire that seems patterned on Alfie Bass in Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (where it worked much better). In the end, you have something like three movies in one that never mesh into a unified whole: a good first five minutes, a jumbled mess for the next 40 minutes, then 50 minutes of something that’s at least close to vintage Del Toro, another few minutes of dubious action scenes (made more dubious by including flashy WWF wrestling moves), a poetic climactic moment and a goofy comic tag scene. Maybe half the film actually works, making it more maddening than if it had been all bad. Horror fans will still want to see it for the things that work, but ought to approach it warily as more of a fascinating failure than anything else.
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