Starring Wesley Snipes as the half-vampire vampire hunter possessing “all of their strengths” and “none of their weaknesses,” 1998's “Blade” was an unqualified hit, a stylish, action-packed vampire bash that managed to satisfy diehard fans of the comic while winning new legions of admirers as well. Any attempt to outdo that effort, however, would require the injection of fresh blood…so to speak. Enter Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, the macabre genius behind the international hit “Cronos” and the less successful though no less creepy “Mimic.” Unlike “Blade” director Stephen Norrington, who was culled from the action ranks, del Toro is a bona-fide horror maven with a penchant for gruesomeness that rivals even the likes of Dario Argento--precisely the sensibility needed to take a franchise like “Blade” to the next obvious level.
With a quick but efficient introductory voice-over by Snipes to help newcomers understand the nature of Blade, his origins and his quest, “Blade II” picks things up two years later in the Czech Republic where a horrific, sinister new threat to vampire society has manifested itself. Blade, meanwhile, is in the same area tracking his old friend Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), left for undead after being infected with the Vampire virus at the end of the first film.
With the help of his new partner, a pot-smoking whiz-kid slacker named Scud (Norman Reedus), Blade eventually locates the barely-alive Whistler, whisks him back to their high-tech lair and nurses him back to health. But before the old team can get back to business whacking blood-suckers, the blood-suckers come to them bearing a truce offer from the ruling vampire overlord Damaskinos (Thomas Kretchmann) in exchange for Blade's help in fighting the new enemy--a virally-infected mutant strain of vampires called Reapers who prey on vampires just as vampires prey on humans. Blade cautiously agrees, and is given charge of a team of vampire commandos known as the Blood Pack who, ironically, was originally assembled and trained as a defense against Blade under the leadership of the belligerent Reinhardt (Ron Perlman). Naturally, that makes for an uneasy alliance, even as a kind of mutual respect--or more--develops between Blade and Damaskinos' daughter, Blood Pack member Nyssa (Leonor Varela).
At this stage, the film begins to look a little bit like “Aliens”--the Reapers multiply at an alarming rate, drawing Blade and the Blood Pack deep into the sewers to try to locate the original carrier of the Reaper virus (Luke Goss).
As to be expected, there are twists and turns aplenty, zippy one-liners and enough firepower to flatten a major metropolis--all in a day's work for writer David S. Goyer, who is fast becoming a master of this particular genre thanks to work on such films as the first “Blade,” “The Crow: City of Angels” and “Dark City.” With del Toro in the director's chair, however, one must also expect a higher gore quotient, a factor which doesn't diminish the film's overall effectiveness, though many fans will almost certainly be taken aback by the extent of the picture's grotesqueries.
What ultimately sustains “Blade II,” though, is Snipes, whose infectious love for the part--a hip combination of pop hero with stylings borrowed from Japanese cyberpunk (à la “The Matrix”), Hong Kong gangster films and S&M leather culture--comes through in every shot. Augmenting the franchise's Hong Kong action credentials also appears to have been a priority, with Hong Kong action superstar Donnie Yen (“Iron Monkey,” “Once Upon a Time in China II”) recruited to choreograph the fighting and play the part of Blood Pack member Snowman.
There are, of course, shortcomings--Yen's otherwise outstanding choreography is not well-served by the hatchetings of editor Peter Amundson, nor by the wholly inappropriate use of CGI in several other instances. On the whole, though, “Blade II” trumps its predecessor, even if it does so through an abundance of excess. Starring Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Norman Reedus, Luke Goss, Leonor Varela, Ron Perlman, Matt Schulze, Thomas Kretschmann, Danny John-Jules, Donnie Yen, Marit Velle Kile, Tony Curran and Daz Crawford. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Written by David S. Goyer. Produced by Peter Frankfurt and Patrick Palmer. A New Line release. Action-Horror. Rated R for strong pervasive violence, language, some drug use and sexual content. Running time: 116 min