Blade II screens at Toronto Underground Cinema on Wednesday October 12th at 7:00pm.
When released in the late summer of 1998, the first Blade film was a sleeper success. Blade debuted before the glut of comic book based films flooded the market and it starred Wesley Snipes, who hadn't been a bankable star for a few years by that point. It deftly mixed horror, extreme action, martial arts, and humorous one-liners into an intoxicating junk food cocktail that was a feast for the eyes and ears. It didn't really care that it didn't have a brain in its head; it simply gave the audience what they wanted in the form of wall to wall gore and some really impressive fight choreography.
Blade's success made a sequel pretty much inevitable, but the second entry in the series feels like a very different film. Blade II tapped the talents of a then only-kinda-sorta-known Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labrynth, Hellboy, Cronos) to direct a story that was far more dense than the thinly plotted original. Fans at the time were left kind of divided by what to think of Blade II. While some fans very rightfully agreed that it was a much more prestigious film than the original, many others complained that it was overlong and that it wasn't so much a vampire action film as it was a strange hybrid zombie-vampire-creature feature.
Our hero, the vampire turned vampire slayer Blade (Snipes) and his caretaker Whistler (Kris Kristopherson) are approached by The High Council of Vampires and their group of mercenaries known as The Bloodpack with an uneasy truce. A new virus known as the Reaper virus is infecting not only vampires, but they people they bite as well. This virus turns a vampire into monsters with heads that open completely and an appetite that causes to feed on a more constant basis than normal. Blade reluctantly agrees to lead The Bloodpack into battle, all while rightfully watching his back, as he sees The Reapers as a very credible threat to both humans and vampires alike.
While considerably longer and yet better paced, Blade II still subscribes to the bigger is better philosophy of making a sequel. While the original was gory enough in its own right, Blade II adds buckets more gore to the mix, especially in the beginning and opening sequences. The look of The Reapers alone is scarier than anything in the original, and even the fight choreography (courtesy of co-star Donnie Yen) is a step above its predecessor. The production design (which was overseen to some degree by Hellboy comic creator Mike Mignola) is a lot darker and more gothic than the more high society looking and club-centric original (which unfortunately the next film in the franchise would return to). Blade II is superior to Blade in almost every way. This is a great example of how a good director can add new life to a franchise at almost any point.