After the surprising success of "Blade," it's no surprise that four years later a sequel was spawned. A new director in tow, "Blade II" is the typical sequel, a lesser version of the original. That's not saying that the film is a failure, just a step down due to a few missteps and some really nasty CG work.
Slowly, the vampire ranks are dwindling due a new super-breed of the species called the Reapers. Genetically altered, this new strain is almost unstoppable. Left with no other choice, the vampires request the assistance of Blade (Wesley Snipes) in order to help them survive. The question is, can the Blade trust the vampires and can they trust Blade?
For those who unfortunately missed out on the original, a quick synopsis plays over the credits to get you up to speed. It doesn't cover everything, but you'll get the basics. What it fails to explain is how Blade's mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) managed to survive. After committing suicide in the first "Blade," it's kind of hard to swallow that he has been brought back no worse for the wear.
One character that fails to return completely is Karen Jenson (played by N'Bushe Wright). Considering her serum is the one that brings Whistler back around, it would be nice to at least hear her name spoken at some point. There's not even an explanation for her absence. Adding to the obvious issues are the easily spotted plot twists. It doesn't take long to figure out who is going to turn on whom.
Beyond that, there are very few problems with the plot. It moves along swiftly, inter-cut with the usual round of stunning, choreographed fight sequences. Snipes is once again at his best, slicing away at the hoard like only Blade can. The new vampire breed is a cold, cruel breed, forced to feed relentlessly and able to withstand incredible punishment thanks to the tweaking of their DNA. They make a formidable enemy, certainly more so than the vampires in the original.
Their makeup is fantastic too. Though you can occasionally tell it's just all rubber, you won't feel sorry when these creatures are slainÖ. unless they become CG creations. Once again, the computer-generated effects are nothing short of awful, especially those used in a fight early in the film. Why they ever chose to replace Snipes and his adversary with "synthetic stuntmen" is baffling, but it's even worse to think the shots stayed in the film. There are a few other moments where the same models are used and they don't work there either.
When it's over, "Blade II" will likely satisfy. Ignoring the few obvious missteps and just soaking up the action should be able to get you through this one unscathed. The action is just as well done as it was in "Blade" and the fights last even longer this time out. It's rare that you'll see brawls like this captured on film. (*** out of *****)
Changing the aspect ratio from 2.35:1 to 1.85:1 (though the back of the DVD case would make you believe otherwise), "Blade II" doesn't look nearly as good as its predecessor and that DVD is six years old. Heavy grain is the major culprit, certainly more noticeable than that of the original. Credit is certainly due for keeping the compression under control when the movie is soaked in both red and blue hues, but the grain continues to annoy. The sharpness of the picture is retained, but it's not enough to counter the major problem. (***)
Though it doesn't look any better, "Blade II" sounds miraculous. One of the rare discs to feature a rich and underutilized DTS ES 6.1 track, this disc is a home theater fanatics dream. Those without the proper equipment can still indulge in a nice 5.1 EX mix. Bass is rarely this powerful and this is one of those discs that should come with a warning label. There's little doubt that a few subwoofers have met their fate due to the movies brutal techno soundtrack. Elsewhere, sound flows freely through all six (or five) speakers perfectly complementing the on-screen mayhem. Separation is flawless. (*****)
Another entry into the "New Line Platinum" series, this is one of the most thorough DVD's on the market. Things start over on disc one with two commentary tracks. First up to the mic are director Guillermo Del Toro and his producer Peter Frankfurt. You'll get to hear how Whistler returns by the way, but it would be better not to have known. Second is Wesley Snipes and writer David Goyer. An isolated music track is available too.
Disc two, as usual, holds all the fun stuff starting with a whopping 83-minute documentary called "Blood Pact." As if that wasn't enough time to cover everything, it branches off into another 18-miutes worth of supplemental material. Everything can also be viewed via chapter stops. If there's still something you don't know about this film after watching that, there's still plenty more to go.
Six sequences get the breakdown treatment. You'll start with the original script, move to the shooting script, look at the on-set action, see the special effects get worked in, and then finally see the completed shot. The visual effects section is broken down into three sections. "Synthetic Stuntmen" looks at how the effects team brutally butchered the CG shots (though they honestly believe they broke new ground). "Digital Maw" is another look at the CG effects, this one looking at the Reapers unique eating habits.
The big feature in this department is called the "Progress Report." These are a collection of tapes put together by the makeup designer to show Del Toro the progress they made. Running around 53-minutes, nearly every single effect is covered, and usually quite in-depth. Everything here was taped during pre-production.
Del Toro provides his notebook for all to see, as does the script supervisor. Here you can see all the notes and at times great artwork done as the shoot moved on. The director introduces his.
Sixteen deleted/extended scenes of (obviously) varying length are included along with a slightly tweaked ending. The producers were forced to digitally alter the final shot because semen was shown on the glass inside a peep show booth (or so says the optional commentary). Some women during a test screening supposedly found it offensive. How you can watch someone get chopped in half and not complain until you see a few small white splotches on a window in a R-rated movie is beyond me.
Rounding off the disc are some script pages that were never used in the final cut and an art gallery. Two trailers have been included along with a music video. Finally, there is an absolutely awful guide for the video game version of the film, which offers up such unique insight as "Collect health to stay alive!" Duh. That's a small complaint to an otherwise perfect set of extras. (*****)
More companies should offer up a DVD set like this. You'll hear people complain that all they want is the movie, but it's impossible not to find the filmmaking process fascinating unless you do it for a living. It's also great to see/hear a director get so enthusiastic about his work. Del Toro obviously had a great time with this one. Here's hoping that enthusiasm carries over to the third film, soon to hit theaters "Blade Trinity."