Twenty Years Later, Blade II Remains One of the Best Comic Book Movie Sequels Ever Made
Faster . . . Sharper . . . Bloodier.
Despite the occasional cries from horror movie fans that continue to lament the dominance of the Twilight franchise over ten years since those movies ended, the aughts had more than enough vampire media that leaned towards the more “animalistic” tastes of those same horror fans. And if ever there was a film that “raised the stakes” in that regard, it most certainly has to be Blade II. Four years after the groundbreaking original, Blade II takes the daywalking vampire hunter international, as he’s forced to team up with his sworn enemies, to fight an entirely new breed of vampires known as the Reapers, who fed not only on humans, but vampires as well.
Naturally, the success of 1998’s Blade would lead to a sequel, especially as the first mainstream commercial success for a film based on a Marvel Comics character. Swapping out original director Stephen Norrington for Guillermo Del Toro, Blade II would also see a change of scenery, in addition to an expansion of the vampire world. Everything about Blade II is bigger and bloodier, with a strong focus on the visual aesthetic. The original Blade focused heavily on everything having a decidedly modern look and feel, with an icy blue steel color palette, while Blade II aimed squarely on a far more gothic, “old world” vibe, having shot primarily, and taking place, in Prague, Czech Republic. One of the many things Blade II improves upon is its use of the night as if it were its own character. From the architecture, to the deep contrast and shadows, to the use of reds, blacks, and amber, there is so much visual texture to the film compared to the original. In terms of cinematography and production design, Blade II is easily one of the best looking comic book-based films of the past two decades.
Story-wise, Blade II understands the need to push things further. It’s also interesting that it would be so reminiscent of a film Guillermo Del Toro had done previously, that he had all but disowned, Mimic. Ultimately, those similarities would only serve as a foundation for a far more robust and expansive exploration of the themes that had merely been touched upon in the first Blade. Through the emergence of the Reapers, Blade has no choice but to fight alongside vampires, and we even see an intimation of kinship with them, most notably with the character of Nyssa . The daughter of the vampire nation’s chief overlord Damaskinos, Nyssa challenges Blade, not only as a combatant, but also as someone at peace with what she is, and wishing that Blade could do the same for himself (a deleted scene from the film would suggest that that two were to have become physically intimate with one another over the course of the film).
To be fair, while the conflict of Blade being half-vampire is still present, the angst has admittedly diminished somewhat in the character, at this point. So much of this is brought out through his tenuous alliance with The Bloodpack, an elite group of vampire mercenaries originally trained to hunt him. And his introduction to them is one of the most perfect scenes in a comic book film ever, as Blade proceeds to gleefully taunt their leader Reinhardt, before stabbing an explosive device into the base of his skull to keep him in line. Blade in Blade II is a character emboldened, at least subconsciously, by the idea that he is better than normal vampires. Even with all his inner turmoil, there is a freedom Blade has that he takes for granted. Among vampires, Blade is comfortable and dare I even say . . . privileged in Blade II.
And through the film’s primary villain Nomak, we see an inverse on display that I’ve always found rather fascinating. As patient zero for the Reaper strain, Nomak is ultimately revealed to be a product of the vampire nation’s attempts to rid vampires of their most common weakness; garlic, silver, and of course sunlight. In the first film, Deacon Frost explicitly tells Blade, “The goal, of course, is to be like you.” Even with all the power they hold economically behind the scenes, even with their own hatred for and fear of Blade, vampires want what he has. In their quest for that goal, they turned one of their own into this monstrous force of savagery, against his will, who now seeks vengeance on them. Nomak can’t forgive what’s been done to him, and by the end of the film, you can’t help but feel sympathy.
This is something that Guillermo Del Toro has long since become a master of. The question he loves to ask in many of his films; who is the “real” monster? In his eyes, Nomak may still be a villain, but he is a tragic one. He’s been made a pawn in a larger game that his own people are all too happy to perpetrate, with no thought to whether it may backfire on them. In this way, Nomak and Blade are ultimately no different from one another. Individuals of differing classes, races, and religions are manipulated in similar ways by those in positions of power, in real life. Not surprisingly, one of my favorite lines in Blade II comes from a Bloodpack member commenting on vampires who have been turned at a vampire club that doubles as a safehouse, “Half of these bastards aren’t even pure bloods . . . why don’t we just kill every fucking one of them . . . just to make sure.”
Of Course, even as Blade II evolves into something of a Shakespearean tragedy over the course of its runtime, however, this is still an action/horror hybrid from a director who would become an Academy Award-winning master of genre filmmaking. Guillermo Del Toro may not have been the name he is today, back in 2002, but fans of films like Cronos and Devil’s Backbone had faith in him to create something truly terrifying, while discovering his affinity for comic books and anime, influences of which would factor heavily into the action and horror of Blade II. In terms of the action, I submit that the best articulation of how bonkers the action and fight choreography was in Blade II, has to go to the editorial posted on Black Nerd Problems in 2018, and suffice it to say, veteran martial artist Wesley Snipes was the living embodiment of “Zero Fucks Given” in Blade II. Serving as a co-fight coordinator along with Jeff Ward, Donnie Yen, and Blade stunt double Clay Fontenot, the quartet would craft some blisteringly brutal fight scenes for Blade II, incorporating a wide variety of martial arts styles, while throwing in everything from sword fighting, to gunplay, and even pro wrestling.
This variety wasn’t just to keep things from getting boring over the course of the film, but also to legitimately inform story and character. Blade’s fight with Nyssa at the beginning is in stark contrast with his final fight with Nomak, with one highlighting flair and precision, with the characters acknowledging each other’s skills, while the other is about sheer ferocity. At this climactic point in the film, Blade has been double-crossed, tortured, and seen a rare chance at true companionship taken from him by Nomak. It’s no longer about being flashy, it’s about putting this “ice-skating uphill” motherfucker down, and for what it’s worth, Nomak DOES NOT make it easy for our friendly neighborhood daywalker.
As for the Reaper vampires of Blade II in general, it’s safe to say that these were some of the most terrifying bloodsuckers put to film in recent memory. So much thought and detail was put into visualizing these creatures, from their Nosferatu-inspired look, to their grotesque means of feeding themselves, as their lower jaws would split open at the chin, revealing a bulbous protruding tongue that resembled some haunting aquatic lifeform all its own. Of course one of the greatest achievements of the special effects team, led by Steve Johnson, would be the life-sized Reaper they created for an incredibly extensive autopsy scene, as Nyssa examines its physiology after it has died of starvation. They created individual organs that would actuate in gross detail should a character drop blood on them! This is the epitome of doing the most, in terms of special effects! There aren’t that many films, at least not in the comic book movie genre, that feel this tactile anymore, and it’s a testament to Guillermo Del Toro, to have gone this extra mile on Blade II.
Make no mistake, there are plenty of great comic book movie sequels that improve on their predecessors, but I would argue that few are as deep and layered as Blade II in terms of expanding on the lead character and the world they inhabit. From where the first film left things, to where this one picks up, it is a quantum leap in terms of tone, visuals, storytelling, action, and horror. I realize MCU brand loyalty has folks excited at the prospect of films like Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness being a welcome foray into horror, but Blade II opened with a GMO vampire biting into another vampire’s neck so hard, the wall behind them was completely painted red with blood. There are GMO vampire fetuses in this movie. Michael Jackson was supposed to have a cameo in this movie where he would play a vampire just doing inventory of bags of flesh for his own amusement! Don’t you talk to me about horror!