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Blade II (2002)::rating::3.5::rating::3.5

Like its predecessor, Blade II arrived at the beginning of the modern superhero renaissance. X-Men, Blade, and Spider-Man proved the genre was ready to be fished out of the cinematic tar pits, where Joel Schumacher had drowned it back in the 90s. Blade II established that these films could also spin off viable sequels–indeed, every film I just named spawned a kick-ass Part 2.* To borrow a little singing parlance, hitting a high note is one thing, holding it is a whole other bag. Blade II successfully sustains what the first film started, and it was any early hint the world was ready for the franchises and world-building to come.

Blade Deux kicks off some time after the conclusion of Blade‘s bloodbath. (I’ll say it now: SPOILERS! Proceed with caution.) Blade (Wesley Snipes), Marvel’s man-vampire hybrid, is still broasting wannabe Draculas and squealing the tires on his slick ’68 Dodge Charger. (No, I didn’t just make that tire-squealing sound out loud. What am I, eight years old? Just keep reading–there’s nothing to see here.) Unfortunately, the suck-heads have captured Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), Blade’s mentor/Man in the Chair/salty old coot/father figure. As a stand-in, Blade has enlisted Scud (Norman Reedus), who looks just like this name sounds. Scud welds metal stuff and fires off snappy, Gen-X one-liners, and…we’re just killing time until Whistler gets rescued, aren’t we?

Yup, and not for very long, either. Whistler’s rescue, which could’ve filled an entire movie with its importance, gets rushed over in the film’s opening scenes. It honestly feels like a perfunctory action beat that writer David S. Goyer and director Guillermo del Toro just had to get out of the way. We’ll call it a blemish on an otherwise solid little movie.

Anyway, Blade is soon approached by an elite squad of vampires, headed by Nyssa (Leonor Varela). This group, known as the Blood Pack, alerts Blade to a frightening new offshoot of vampires, known as the Reapers. To put it simply: The Reapers are stronger, hungrier, and more powerful than their vampiric kin. They look like zombie-alien monsters, and each bite turns a vampire to the dark side. Soon, the Reapers will overrun the vampires and turn their attention to humans.

Thus confronted with the enemy of his enemy, Blade forms an uneasy alliance with the Blood Pack. As always, movie bylaws dictate that this new team must be a cocky batch of assholes who buck up to Blade every chance they get. This welcoming committee is headed up by Reinhardt (Ron Perlman), a loose cannon who fires off cheesy one-liners with tiresome regularity. We also get a brute (Daz Crawford), the brute’s girlfriend (Marit Velle Kile), and a mute guy with ninja skills (Donnie Yen).

Long story short, the Blood Pack seeks out head Reaper Nomak (Luke Goss), a ruthless killer who sports a casket-sized chip on his shoulder. Together, they must stop Nomak from destroying the world, hopefully before they end up killing each other.

Like any competent sequel, Blade II charts new storytelling terrain, while also retaining the enjoyable traits of its predecessor. With that said, if you’re a Blade fan, you’re probably not here for storytelling nuance and the political machinations between humans and vampires. No, you’re tuning into see Wesley Snipes hacking up hissing vampires by the truckload. And if he can also blow some shit up, well…that’s just a nice bonus. Well, I’ll go ahead and TL;DR it: Blade II does all that with reckless, giddy abandon. This is a big, brawny action flick, and in the hands of del Toro, everything is brilliantly staged.

If I have another quibble, it’s that del Toro didn’t smack his auteur stamp on the screenplay. For some reason, Goyer wants to nestle these Blade films next to Die Hard and Robocop in the Goofball One-Liners Hall of Fame. Del Toro is on record that this cheesy dialogue drove him bonkers, and I wish he’d given the script his personal touch.

In the scheme of things, that’s a pretty small gripe. Most of Blade works really well in a visceral, over the top kinda way. It also helps that the lead roles feature some spot-on casting: Snipes takes the role of a stoic, grouchy sum’bitch and makes it his own. Kristofferson sounds like how dive bars smell. Reedus delivers the best interpretation of a character named Scud in all of cinema history. Overall, these first two Blade films aren’t masterpieces, but they are quite good. For superhero films in 2002, this was progress.

117 min. R. HBOMax.

(* = Also, an atrocious part III.)

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