With its slick cinematography, Hong Kong-style action sequences, and Wesley Snipes' kick-ass athleticism, "Blade" became the surprise hit during the summer of 1998, and went on to make additional millions in the still-nascent DVD market. It reinvigorated Hollywood's waning interest in comic-book-to-film adaptations (which was the result of too many mediocre "Batman" sequels), beat "The Matrix" to the punch with its East-meets-West philosophy for fight scenes, and took the almost-comatose vampire genre in a fresh new direction. Now, four years later, the inevitable sequel has arrived. In a bid to keep things fresh, scribe David S. Goyer (who also penned the first film) takes a couple of pages from the James Cameron book of making sequels by (a) making the antagonists from the first film allies of the hero in the sequel (as in "Terminator 2: Judgement Day") and (b) expanding the premise of the first pic by making a war movie (à la "Aliens"). As a result, unlike most movie sequels, "Blade II" is on par with its predecessor.
"Blade II" picks up two years after the first film. Blade (Snipes), the half-human half-vampire vigilante, has finally located his missing partner and mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson, reprising his role), in the Eastern European city of Prague. After dispatching Whistler's vampire captors and bringing him back from the undead, Blade receives an unexpected visit from vampires Nyssa (Leonor Varela, seen recently in "The Tailor of Panama") and Asad (Danny John Jules of "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels"), who have come to ask for a truce on behalf of Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann of "U-571"), the vampire king. It seems that there is a new breed of bloodsucker called Reapers (who are best described as a cross between "Nosferatu" and "Aliens"), led by Nomak (Luke Goss), who are out to conquer both the vampire and human worlds, and Damaskinos wants Blade to lead a commando team to eradicate them. The only problem is that the team happens to be comprised of the Bloodpack, a well-trained and well-armed assault team that was originally formed to deal with Blade. But cognizant of the greater danger posed by the Reapers, Blade reluctantly joins forces against his long-time foes, even though such an alliance could get him stabbed in the back...
Compared to the first film, "Blade II" is more action-packed, with most of the running time occupied by imaginative fight sequences. In addition to playing a sword-wielding member of the Bloodpack named Snowman, Hong Kong film veteran Donnie Yen ("Iron Monkey") choreographed the fights in "Blade II", and the influence of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is fairly obvious. Compared with the original film, the martial arts in the sequel are far more acrobatic, with the liberal use of wire-fu and CGI to make combatants leap through the air and execute other dazzling feats of physical prowess, such as in Blade's initial run-in with Nyssa and Asad. Unfortunately, at times, it seems that "Blade II" offers too much of a good thing, as some of the action sequences begin to drag long after your senses have been pummeled from the excessive quick-cutting and bone-crunching sounds. Sometimes more is less.
In addition to more violence, "Blade II" offers more gore than its predecessor, with blood squirting far more freely this time around, while vampires explode in new and wondrous ways when defeated. In addition, director Guillermo Del Toro ("The Devil's Backbone") shows his roots in the horror genre in how he laces "Blade II" with disturbing imagery, such as the 'feeding' that takes place at a vampire nightclub, an autopsy that is conducted on a dead Reaper, and the things that Blade finds in the sewers where the Reapers have made their lair.
Unfortunately, "Blade II" also shares a shortcoming with the original film-- an intellectually light narrative. Though the Goyer-penned script does throw in a few surprises along the way, the greater emphasis on heart-pounding action sequences shortchanges some of the character development. As a result, the motivations of some of the key players are not very well fleshed out, which leads to some head-scratching at the end (particularly with respect to Nyssa, whose actions during the film's climax are questionable).
As Blade, Snipes is even more cool, self-assured, and brazen than in the previous film, which is something I suspect that "Blade" fans will not object to. In addition to being relegated to doing little more than acting cranky and spouting amusing insults at the Bloodpack, Kristofferson has to share screen time with Norman Reedus (who previously worked with Del Toro on "Mimic") who plays Blade's new (and annoying) sidekick. Among the Bloodpack, Varela is appealing as the only vampire whom Blade can trust, Ron Perlman ("Alien: Resurrection") is suitably disagreeable as their leader, and Yen shows off his fighting skill as the strong-but-silent Snowman. Unfortunately, other than some horrifying make-up jobs. Kretschmann and Goss do little to elevate their roles beyond generic villains.
After putting up with numerous forgettable entries in the genre, such as "The Forsaken" and "Queen of the Damned", it is quite a relief to find a vampire movie that doesn't (pardon the pun) suck. "Blade II" may not have a great script, but it makes up for it with its loud and flashy emphasis on action. Fans of the first film will certainly be pleased in how it expands on the premise introduced in the first film without rehashing it, while newcomers will probably be taken in by the abundance of eye candy that seems tailored for moviegoers of the post-"Matrix" era.