Monday, December 31, 2007

reVIEW (34)

With Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army coming rapidly down the pike, I thought to look back at his immensely enjoyable Blade II.
And as an added bonus, I’ve also resurrected a review of
Blade: Trinity, which is somewhere in the Archive.
Sorry, but I’m not enough of a masochist to actually endure Steve Norrington’s
Blade again just so I can write a review of it. That’s for far braver souls than I.

Now if you’re a regular ‘round here at the Iguana, you’ll know that I love me my vampires, so I’m rather picky when it comes to my suckheads.
Well, I was pretty underwhelmed with Steve Norrington’s stab at the genre with the original Blade. Though it did have Stephen Dorff and Udo Kier in it, the movie itself was fairly unimpressive.
Not so with Guillermo Del Toro’s Blade II.

To begin with, this sequel’s actually got a director behind the wheel, someone with a clear and focused vision of the film he wants to make, and the skill and creativity to bring that vision to celluloid life.
That director then has a script by David S. Goyer, who, apparently realizing that a Blade movie is, in essence, a Wesley Snipes action vehicle, throws out all that bush league vampire politicking from the original, and serves up a high-flying, kick-a$$ ride, with crateloads of crazy, wonderful toys that make nasty undead meanies go boom.

Aside from Del Toro and Goyer, there’s a whole bunch of other key personnel involved that make Blade II have the big, sharp, and formidable teeth that it does.
There’s the triple threat of cinematographer Gabriel Beristain (The Ring Two and The Invisible), long-time David Cronenberg collaborator, production designer Carol Spier (who also worked on Christophe Gans‘ ultra-creepfest, Silent Hill), and costume designer Wendy Partridge (who also dressed up the bizarre residents of Silent Hill, as well as the weirdoes on Del Toro’s Hellboy).
Then there’re artists Tim Bradstreet, who serves as Vampire “Look” Consultant, and Mike Mignola, who serves as Visual Consultant. (Mignola would, of course, collaborate with Del Toro again for the Hellboy films.)
Tippett Studios (founded by special effects wizard Phil Tippett) then provides creature effects, bringing the film’s Reapers—vampires who feed on other vampires—to hideous, hellish life.
With all this top caliber talent behind the camera, Blade II looks effin' fan(g)tastic (sorry), and feels like you’ve walked straight into a Vampire role-playing game, with a whole lotta guns and testosterone, of course.

And in front of the camera, you’ve got the one-two Big Baddie punch of Thomas Kretschmann and Luke Goss, as vampire ancient, Overlord Eli Damaskinos, and Reaper Jared Nomak, respectively. This pair bring the necessary gravity to their antagonists’ roles that make the film’s bad guys substantial and worthy opponents, with a presence that cannot be ignored nor dismissed.
Kretschmann would, of course, go on to appear in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist and Peter Jackson’s King Kong, while 80’s music junkies may—or may not—recall Goss as part of the duo, Bros. (Goss returns to Del Toro-landia as Prince Nuada in Hellboy II: The Golden Army.)

Anther key performer is Ron Perlman, as Bloodpack member, Reinhardt. Perlman had previously worked on Del Toro’s debut feature Cronos, and would, like Mike Mignola, re-team with the director for the Hellboy films. As part of the Bloodpack, Perlman’s Reinhardt has been training two long and hard years to take down Blade, only to have to work alongside him, to deal with the Reaper problem. The macho antagonism between Reinhardt and Blade make for some interesting and amusing moments in Blade II.
Among the Bloodpack, you’ll also find Donnie Yen, as Snowman. Yen, is of course known for his work on the Hong Kong martial arts scene. On Blade II, Yen also handles the martial arts choreography, resulting in some awesome fight sequences, the best in fact, in the Blade trilogy. (Yen would subsequently be seen as Sky in Yimou Zhang‘s visually ravishing Ying Xiong (Hero). This year he headlines Wilson Yip‘s Dao Huo Xian (Flash Point), and next year, Gordon Chan’s highly-anticipated remake of the supernatural thriller, Painted Skin, which revolves around “a vampire-like woman who eats the skins and hearts of her lovers.” Yum.)

But for all those impressive pluses, there is a rather glaring minus, in Leonor Varela, who plays Damaskinos’ daughter, Nyssa. At this juncture, I’d like to point out that in the old tongue, “Nyssa” means “She Who Does Not Know How To Act.”
It’s sad that Varela is given one of the bigger supporting roles in Blade II, as her performance is far from convincing. Kretschmann and Goss manage to emote far better from beneath Nosferatu-like make-up appliances than Varela does with her flawless, God-given skin.
Still, even with that drawback—and some sequences where the CGI isn’t quite pixel-perfect—Blade II is still light years better than either Norrington’s original, or Goyer’s Blade: Trinity.

That singular moment, early on in Blade II, when Snipes leaps off a rooftop, and the camera twists and turns along with him in his rapid descent to the street below, then tags along with the bullet as it speeds towards an escaping vampire, is the moment when it all fell into place for me. In that bravura, CGI-assisted move, Del Toro pulled me onto the kinetic ride that is Blade II, instantly imparting an instinctual knowledge that I could trust him, because he knew exactly what he was doing.
And he did.
This is one of the few Marvel movies that actually has the brazen and ballsy energy of the best comic books out there, and in this day and age, should serve as an important touchstone, when audiences seem content to allow limp entries like Ghost Rider and the Fantastic Four films to actually turn a profit.
Thus far, this also remains Del Toro’s best Hollywood movie to date. We will, of course, have to re-evaluate after Hellboy II: The Golden Army, but until then, you’d do well to take Blade II in, ‘cause Del Toro slathers enough butter, blood, and adrenaline on this popcorn movie to make it all worth your while.

Parting shot: Reviews of Blade: Trinity, Ghost Rider, the Fantastic Four movies, Guillermo Del Toro’s El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth), the Hellboy animated film, Sword of Storms, as well as Hideo Nakata’s The Ring Two and David S. Goyer’s The Invisible (both of which were shot by Blade II cinematographer Gabriel Beristain), can be found in the Archive.

(Blade II OS courtesy of

No comments: