Blood (never simple, though sometimes pure) rises violently in waves of fighting and feeding — tragically and melodramatically in unshed tears, and romantically in hearts living and undead in Blade II. Blade (Wesley Snipes) — a superhero-potent blend of vigilante gunslinger, Bruce Lee, samurai and vampire wrapped in the black skin and leather of Shaft-meets-Batman — is back.
In Blade, we last left our hero on the dark, winter streets of Moscow, his gleaming sword drawn preparing to defend a Russian damsel in distress from the menacing fangs of an undead comrade. Now we find him barging into the back room of a vampire safe house in Prague, interrupting a seedy group of “suckheads” (Blade’s preferred vampire slur) as they snort a red powder. (The print on the boxes stacked around them reads “Mad Cow.”)
Blade goes into action set on “kill.” He moves with the superhuman gymnastic prowess of a hyped-up Batman; his fists and feet fly with the rapid precision of his machine gun’s torrent of bullets; and his sword spins like a lethal blender set on “puree.” He literally smokes the suckheads: Penetrated by his silver blade or bullets, their flesh sparks, flares into flame and falls in glowing embers burning out into gray ash.
Blade is a rebel with a determined cause. The sole surviving vampire gets an offer he can’t refuse: If he gives up the location of Blade’s savior and mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), Blade will consider the suckhead a “loose end” and catch him later. Little does our hero know that Whistler’s rescue will lead to a fragile and ironic alliance with the Blood Pack — a special forces squad of vampires led by Reinhardt (Ron Perlman, Enemy at the Gates) trained to hunt and kill Blade — as well as to love and loss.
Blade II is harder, darker and deeper than its predecessor. Blade himself is more hard-boiled. His opening voice-over, which gets those who haven’t seen the first movie up to speed, makes a streamlined link to the dark princes of film noir, those callused Humphrey Bogart detectives such as The Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade and The Big Sleep’s Philip Marlowe. Blade may share the moral and ethical ambiguity of those antiheroes in his by-any-means-necessary tactics, but that’s all: Snipes’ character is harder than Bogie’s — Bruce Lee-in-Enter the Dragon-hard — but, like Toshiro Mifune’s ronin samurai, under all the dark leathery calluses from his compromises beats a righteous heart of gold.
Director Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone) abandons the day-walking gleam of the first Blade for the shadowy lairs of Blade, the vampires and their mutual enemies, the reapers. He takes us into the evil realm of a vampiric King Lear and through the House of Pain, a dance club where vampires take S&M to its ultimate extremes.
Screenwriter David Goyer returns from Blade to give the story depth. Beneath the hyperkinetic action set pieces lie the same issues of infection, mutation, race and class found under the surface of the first film. The voracious reapers arise from a mutated form of the vampire virus. In the first charged meeting between Blade and the Blood Pack, Reinhardt asks him if he can blush. (Blade asks him the same question after he deals with him near the movie’s climax.) Blood Pack member Priest (Tony Curran) suggests in his light Irish brogue that they slaughter everyone at the House of Pain instead of waiting to pick out the reapers: Most of those partying are “just half-breeds” (turned, not born, vampires) anyway. What seems to anger the vampire nation most, besides issues of survival, is that something would dare to feed on them, knocking them from their privileged status at the top of the food chain.
Deeper still, Goyer’s story reflects our current fears concerning genetic manipulation in a subplot that can trace its bloodline back to Frankenstein and beyond to the classical myths of Prometheus and Pandora. At this mythic level, Blade II is also about the Oedipal struggles between fathers and sons, as well as the good old fight against evil.
Blade II is occasionally corny: Calling the desire for blood “the thirst” sounds right out of a Mountain Dew commercial (but I guess the better terms have already been taken) and some of the moves in the climactic fight scene are right out of TV wrestling. But this Blade is still sharp — and it cuts deep.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].