***½/**** Image A+ Sound A+ Extras A+
starring Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Luke Goss
screenplay by David S. Goyer
directed by Guillermo Del Toro
by Walter Chaw Detailing the uncomfortable alliance of Blade and his arch-enemy vampires against a mutant "crack-addict" form of vampire called "Reapers," Blade II introduces the hints of a twice-illicit romance between Blade (Wesley Snipes) and a succubus princess Nyssa (Leonor Varela) that blossoms after a meet-cute involving the threat of beheading and castration (awww), as well as an unusually pithy look at strange bedfellows in a mutually beneficial conflagration.
Guillermo Del Toro sets his protagonist/alter-egos adrift in wonderlands of perverse Catholic imagery redolent with outsized fairytale ovens, seeping caverns, swaying steel meat hooks, and wall-climbing insects. His palette is geared to the cool green and sepia brown, leavened in Blade II by wet crimson and the healing blaze of sunlight: the incandescence of reason forever the Miltonic hero's best weapon. Scripted by David S. Goyer but authored by Del Toro, Blade II returns the titular dunpeal (half-vampire) avenger, his impossibly grizzled Q, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson, back from the dead in true comic-book fashion), and a cast of new baddies (led by über-Reaper Nomak (Luke Goss)), placing them in carefully structured opposition that gives Blade stigmata just prior to a baptismal dip in a font of blood, while offering a naughty take on the Prodigal Son reimagined in a vampire elder and his mutant lost boy.
The goth culture's predilection for body mutilation carries through to its logical undead end in a Sadeian workshop of grue that distinguishes the standard underground industrial rave club sequence from also-ran into funhouse queasiness. It's in these small details (an elderly bloodsucker gums a repast of blood Jell-o as a vampiric hipster sniffs crystallized haemoglobin bound to some Columbian marching powder) that Blade II demonstrates its cleverness; it's in a few genuinely revolutionary action sequences that Del Toro demonstrates his genius for image. Discarding the wire-fu of the original that has since become cliché in American action flicks, Del Toro has developed a digitized madness that gives hope for the future of CGI.
Blade II is a tremendous amount of fun that still finds time and room for Del Toro's thematic obsessions. Clearly, the vampire mythos is a comfortable one for the director, what with its evangelical cant, its religious iconography, its interest in imbibing blood, and its foundation of resurrection. Blade II is his second vampire film after Cronos--the ghoul in the latter film not only dubbed "Jesus" but also affecting the same stigmata now afflicting Blade. Del Toro is our finest comic-book auteur, finding the pulse in the pulp and gifting it with the touch of fable and tainted faith that informs our core fears (note a scene where a human is asked to open the mouth of an apparently dead monster) and closet pleasures.
Despite it all, Blade II never makes the mistake of taking itself seriously. The original film being the logical successor to '70s Blaxploitation-chic--all bad attitude and ass kicking--its sequel escalates the posing and exaggerated stoicism into something equal parts archetype and joy. Its best lines its worst, too, delivered with a kind of stone-faced vehemence, its best moment either the return of Blade's fly shades or his WWF full-suplex of a jackbooted familiar.
Blade II is breathless and comfortably ridiculous, gleefully disgusting and full of the stings and reveals that demonstrate a winking knowledge of the genres (horror flick, chop-socky pulper) it subverts. Guillermo Del Toro, like M. Night Shyamalan, is invested in proving that comic book plots deserve the eye, the hand, and the strange fixations of an auteur. Though imperfect (its pace lagging once or twice, its love story somewhat undersold), Blade II delivers what it promises with a high level of cunning, a canny use of holy iconography, and an impressive internal logic. It is the offspring of delight, that of Del Toro and Snipes' (who co-produced), and it grows the same in the garden of the genre fan. Originally published: March 22, 2002.
by Bill Chambers Just about the only thing that drives me nuts about Blade II on DVD has nothing to do with the way it was mastered: The first film was in 2.35:1, while Del Toro chose to shoot the sequel at 1.85:1--I loathe an inconsistency in aspect ratio between franchise entries (see also the Alien "Legacy" and the Halloween films). Otherwise, this is a glamour release from New Line Home Video, with sound that should very quickly ascend the ranks of home theatre demo material. The film alternates blue and yellow colour schemes and ladles each colour on thick, but the anamorphic image keeps the transfer's saturation on a short leash. Now, regarding that audio: bolt down the furniture. Presented in Dolby Digital EX and DTS-ES configurations, the 5.1 mix doesn't strive for realism for a second, and bless it for that. The post-prologue motorcycle chase is enough to give you an ear-gasm if you have the guts to pump up the volume, while the sewer stakeout (no pun intended) makes cleverer and more frequent use of the rear-channel discretes than any DVD in recent memory.
Special features are spread out over two platters. To the feature on the first disc, director Del Toro and producer Peter Frankfurt contribute a commentary full of cheek (they call one spray of blood "the Jackson Pollock moment"); screenwriter David Goyer and star Snipes headline a second yakker. I preferred the former for such self-deprecating but on-target observations from Del Toro as, "My favourite thing in life is things in jars," but the Goyer/Snipes pairing yields its share of rewards, including Snipes's revelation that for as many movies as he's appeared in, he was still shocked to learn how the film industry operates from a producer's perspective. Marco Beltrami's score is isolated in Dolby Digital 5.1 on a third track, capping off the supplements on Disc 1.
FILM FREAK CENTRAL darling David Prior produced Disc 2's extras, starting with a long-form, full-frame documentary, The Blood Pact: The Making of Blade II (83 mins.). I found its length a little excessive; just when the ending is thought imminent, Del Toro and Beltrami engage in an interminable discussion of the potential CD, during which room-tone drowns out practically everything said, anyway. One is also disappointed that an apparent conflict between Snipes's personal choreographer Jeff Ward and Del Toro's hire, HK sensation Donnie Yen (who did double-duty on the film as the character Snowman), remains subtextual. Luckily, The Blood Pact is chapter-encoded, rewarding impatience; on another pass, I'd go straight to either the interview with production designer Carol Spier (without whom there would be no David Cronenberg) or the deconstruction of the dance-club sequence. See Del Toro conceptualize every fleeting detail down to a vampyric French kiss.
Like much of the second DVD's bonus material, the doc is annotated by on-screen text (one note encourages us to look up the answer to a bafflement involving Damaskinos by listening to Disc 1's commentary--this is a package that wants to fully engage us and succeeds, minor caveats aside). In addition, a glyph icon periodically obscures The Blood Pact--pressing enter branches to various clips (five in all that can be accessed separately); ever the completist, Prior even provides photographs of all the percussion instruments used in the orchestration of Beltrami's music!
Next under Special Features, you'll find six "Sequence Breakdowns." For each one, you can read its first-draft screenplay origins or the appropriate passage in the shooting script, or view storyboards and F/X breakdowns or watch behind-the-scenes footage shot by Tippett Studios. Comparing the screenplay segments proves illuminating: a stage direction in the original screenplay for the "Blood Bank" sequence, for instance, becomes a line of dialogue in the production draft. It's a must for aspiring Goyers.
Under the umbrella of "Visual Effects" are three shorts. "Synthetic Stuntmen" (6 mins.) explains digital stuntwork largely by way of demonstration. "The Digital Maw" (4 mins.) shows where the puppetry ends and the CGI begins with regards to the Reaper mouth effects. And "Progress Reports" is a 56-minute collection of Steve Johnson's home movies of the Tippett workshop, initially shot to keep Del Toro abreast of their advancements in the film's creature designs. Here poor Kris Kristofferson must pose for a body cast, and one expects to hear him mutter something about having an easier time with Peckinpah.
Del Toro introduces his scrapbook of pre-production doodles; also in this section, "Notebooks", are unfilmed script pages for three scenes mentioned elsewhere on the disc and script supervisor Claudine Strasser's gorgeous, Polaroid-laden copy of the screenplay. In this vein, "Art Gallery" groups six step-frame galleries covering props, costumes, sets, characters, more storyboards, and "sequence concepts."
Last but not least are sixteen Deleted & Alternate Scenes (in anamorphic widescreen) with video introduction from Del Toro once again. ("What you will see is mostly crap!") View them at the very least in lump sum with the Del Toro/Frankfurt commentary option switched to "on"--for starters, you wouldn't want to miss Del Toro's discussion of Whistler's sexual politics. A cheat guide for the Blade II videogame (3 mins.), the film's press kit, its theatrical and teaser trailers (both in DD 5.1 and enhanced for 16x9 displays), the video for Cypress Hill and Roni Size's "Child of the Wild West," and a few pages of DVD credits round out this extravagant set, discounting the ROM-exclusive "Script-to-Screen" interface. The DVD(s) come(s) packaged with a soundtrack offer. Originally published: September 21, 2002.