June 7, 2003
In 1998 Blade became something of a surprise hit. Originally with Ice Cube down to play Blade, it was going to be a mediocre sized release with little in the way of expectations. Then Wesley Snipes became interested and the scale of the project rose.
Blade built on the current hype surrounding vampires started by the then new Buffy the Vampire TV series. It showed that a film based on a comic book didn’t need to be camp, confusing or insincere. Blade had a hard edged feel with a superb techno beat driving the action, skilfully directed to make great use of its limited budget and with a star that invented the word cool. Blade was the business, and it very quickly became apparent that a sequel would be in the offing.
Four years later we were given Blade II, and the promise of some strain of vampires to provide a challenge for our blood sucking hero.
The story behind Blade, for those that haven’t seen the original or have missed the Marvel comics, centres around a half human/half vampire named Blade. Born just hours after his mother was attacked by a vampire, Blade has the strength and agility of a vampire, but without the weaknesses. Named the Daywalker by other vampires, he now hunts them down in a never ending battle to rid the world of evil, kind of like the slayer (oh how cool would a cross-over be?).
Blade’s only weakness is his thirst for Blood, like full blown vampire’s he needs to drink to sustain himself. This he combats with a cerium that provides him with the rush he requires.
Blade II sees the Daywalker having to team with enemy he’s dedicated life to fighting in order to battle a new foe; the Reapers. They are a new strain of vampire that feeds on both humans and vampires alike.
Fans of the original Blade may notice that Kris Kristofferson makes a return in Blade II as Whistler. How you may ask? Well it is done in quite a clever way, but does therefore take liberties with the myth of the vampire. But then this film goes some way to re-writing how vampires are defined. A vampire is supposed to be a soulless demon, a shell of the character that once was. Yet in Blade II you have Vampires talking about family and feeling fear and love. We’re on distinctly different ground to that established in Hammer Horror and Buffy. The thought of vampires getting organised is quite a frightening one too. Vampirism is treated as a business, with blood banks and feeding clubs set up all over the world, far more effective than just stalking and feeding as the hunger takes them.
The dusting effects in Blade II have been overhauled too, and differ greatly from what we the viewers have become accustomed too. Here we see an almost industrial styled metal works sparking effect each time a vamp gets slain. It’s a bitter pill to swallow as both the original Blade and Buffy had set a precedent in vamp dusting, to change it now seems strange.
Blade II also had a sizably larger budget than that of the original, and this they seem to have splashed on some unnecessary CGI. Rather than create dynamic action sequences through stylised direction and editing they’ve resorted to the odd computer generated Blade flying through the air, and he stands out. It doesn’t really fit the rest of the film, and unless CGI is done by the best it always shows up.
Other action sequences rely on money to pave over slack direction too. Blade’s first appearance is one such scene, where to vamps escape on motorbikes and then try to run Blade down. This as an intro sequence to Blade II doesn’t compare to the original Blade’s vampire club scene. It reminded me of a hundred and one cheap action movies that have the cash without the talent. I guess necessity is the mother of invention, which is why the original Blade was so strong.
Blade II does get better though, and has a few touches that improve on the original. The sword fights for example are exquisite, when the keep the CGI out of it at least. Snipes and Dorff’s sword fight in the original Blade was stylised to cover a lack of choreography, but the fights in Blade II are brilliantly staged. It’s similar to The Phantom Menace in many respects in that the sword fight choreography sticks out as one of the best aspects of the film. Now don’t be put off by that!
The cast in Blade II is also something of a surprise. Would you believe that the lead bad guy, head of the Reapers ‘Jared Nomak’ is actually played by Luke Goss from Bros? Wonders clearly will never cease because he’s actually very good in the role. If that isn’t surprising enough then one of the vampires teamed up with Blade is the cowardly Cat from Red Dwarf, Danny John-Jules. Looking rather like the Cat with his vampire teeth you expect at any moment to hear him say ‘We’re deader than tank tops’, and where was Dwain Dibley? Danny’s impact on the film was less than that of Luke Goss, but it was to see him nonetheless.
The original DVD release of Blade was hailed as a triumph with its exquisite presentation and barrage of features, and Blade II tries hard to live up to it. However the original film showed us insights into how a film was made without the luxury of a bottomless pit of cash. What happens when a large slice of the budget is spent on an effects laden finale which then has to be cut and reshot. What Blade II gives you is decent enough, but you feel distanced from the filming process by things that were clearly shot and completed with the DVD in mind.
Blade II is a fast paced energetic action flic that like so many other lives in the shadow of its original but is still enjoyable regardless. It’s only a matter of time though until we get a full length Buffy movie as the desire for Vampires and action is higher than ever.