The Savage Stack - BLADE II (2002)

The Daywalker's second vampire hunting foray is the ALIENS of superhero films.

There’s always going to be – for lack of a better term – a stack of films we’ve been meaning to get to. Whether it’s a pile of DVDs and Blu-rays haphazardly amassed atop our television stands, or a seemingly endless digital queue on our respective streaming accounts, there’s simply more movies than time to watch them. This column is here to make that problem worse. Ostensibly an extension of Everybody’s Into Weirdness (may that series rest in peace), The Savage Stack is a compilation of the odd and magnificent motion pictures you probably should be watching instead of popping in The Avengers for the 2,000th time. Not that there’s anything wrong with filmic “comfort food” (God knows we all have titles we frequently return to when we crave that warm and fuzzy feeling), but if you love movies, you should never stop searching for the next title that’s going to make your “To Watch” list that much more insurmountable. Some will be favorites, others oddities, with esoteric eccentricities thrown in for good measure. All in all, a mountain of movies to conquer.

The forty-eighth entry into this unbroken backlog is Guillermo del Toro's installment in the Daywalker chronicles, Blade II...

If you used Blade II as the baseline comparison for all superhero pictures, you'd probably find most lacking. By using Aliens ('86) as his template when following up Stephen Norrington's already superlative vampire stalker saga, Guillermo del Toro pulled off the impossible. He tweaked the original's formula - updating the monster and upping the ante by introducing a rogue's gallery of legitimate badasses - while still keeping its horror film elements intact. While Blade II isn't as radical a reinvention as Cameron's stone classic (which went from "haunted house spook show" to "Vietnam film"), it is a strengthening of tone, themes and action choreography - the Hong Kong influenced creature feature you always wanted, but never got. 

Picking up right where Blade left off, our titular kung fu killer (Wesley Snipes) is chasing a new batch of bloodsuckers through the Czech Republic, mowing motherfuckers down as he searches for Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), the right hand man/father figure who nursed him back to life after his pregnant mother was attacked by a fang-head. To be honest, while the choreography (which was handled by a combo of Snipes and HK superstar Donnie Yen) is incredible, this reintroduction is the most perfunctory portion of the picture. Nevertheless, del Toro keeps what could've been a hefty exposition dump chugging along, telling us a story through action as Whistler is brought back to the land of the living via a blood detox, though he's none too pleased to meet Blade's new Q-esque assistant, Scud (Norman Reedus) - a pot smoking tech warrior, designing cutting-edge vamp vaporizing tools for the Daywalker. 

Before we go any further, we should talk about Blade, who might be the most delightfully antisocial superhero to ever hit the screen. Most of that is due to Snipes, who not only brings an impressive (and frankly intimidating) physical prowess to the leather-clad asskicker, but a genuine joy that we feel every time the Daywalker reduces one of these night-stalkers to a pile of sparks and ash. It's kind of a miracle that we ever got a "hero" like this from Marvel, as instead of the roguish scamp Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark or trusty do-gooder Chris Evans' Steve Rogers turned out to be, Blade is a single-minded, single-monikered instrument of destruction. He's the Prince of vampire killing, only a different sort of multi-instrumentalist; one that can kill you with any weapon ever imagined.

Which is good, because Blade's going to need every advantage he can get when battling a new vamp mutation that's hit the streets. The Reapers - led by mysterious nomad Nomak (Luke Goss) - are grotesque subcreatures; the CHUD of this already veiled underworld. With vaginal, jawless maws, the Reapers look like Nosferatu after he's been free-basing for a week straight, and possess hearts encased by hard bone, feeding not on the blood of humans, but on the bloodsuckers who now fear any encounter with them. Instead of seeking human extinction (like Frost's plan in the first film), the vampires are now the species on the chopping block. Blade is summoned against his will to meet with Lord Damaskinsos (Thomas Kretschmann), who fills him in on the details of this new plague, before offering an unholy alliance with the Daywalker. Together with a group of vampire mercenaries dubbed the Bloodpack (who were originally trained to kill Blade), a new bug hunt begins, leading our hero deeper into the vamp underbelly than he's ever been. 

Like the Colonial Space Marines, the Bloodpack are an elite unit, comprised of hardened warriors ready to throw down with the nastiest enemies their universe has to offer. Damaskinos' daughter Nyssa (Leonor Varela) leads the squad - which includes bald-headed, towering ogre Reinhardt (Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman), bleach blonde Chupa (Matt Schulze), silent killer Snowman (Yen), mouthy maniac Priest (Tony Curran), polite murderer Asad (Danny John-Jules), the thunder-wielding Lighthammer (Daz Crawford), and his doting lady Verlaine (Marit Velle Kile). United in violence, they're a multi-ethnic mix of marauding mercs, skilled enough that Blade needs to show them up upon first meeting (by sticking a bomb in the back of Reinhardt's dome) just so he doesn't have to keep one eye over his shoulder throughout the entire mission. 

From here, del Toro's movie becomes a series of escalating action set pieces, as David Goyer's script really acts as nothing more than a rough blueprint, leading the squad from Point A to Point B, where more Reapers are undoubtedly waiting to try and tear the Bloodpack apart. The imaginative Mexican director does well to hit certain staples of the series (the "House of Pain" club sequence rivals the "Blood Rain" opener from the first film) while also injecting a hefty load of designs from his personal sketchbook. What's fascinating is that Blade II is much more spectacle-heavy than it is story or character-driven, which is a departure from del Toro's usual MO. However, that allows the director to apply his knack for Gothic fantasy in unexpected ways, such as the future tech metallic lab lair where Damaskinos receives updates from his lackey assistant (Karel Roden), or the dungeon cellar beneath a secret vampire rave club. 

That's not to say Blade II doesn't feel like a Guillermo del Toro film; quite the contrary, actually. As we enter the movie's third act, it becomes clear that del Toro's again sent us down a fairy tale rabbit hole, full of secret princes and deceitful kings. Were it not for the somewhat awful piss-yellow filter that's been placed over the entirety of the movie's photography (a rather garish choice by action cinematographer regular Gabriel Beristain), Blade II's steadily evolving design work would fit right in with the rest of the auteur's filmography (and even predicts certain stylings on his Hellboy series ['04/'08]). While we often look to GDT's dark Mexican fables as the keys to understanding his body of work, Blade II provides insight into the director operating on a pure commercial level, while still delivering a picture that possibly kicks more ass than its predecessor. 

Blade II is available now on Blu-ray/DVD from New Line Cinema. 

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