Film and TV

Roller Blade

Looking at the original Blade now, it's not as impressive as it seemed at the time; its hugely positive reception among the comic-book crowd may have been simply because it didn't suck. It came out before The Matrix brought Hong Kong-style wires and trenchcoats to the world's attention, and also before The Phantom Menace's impressive level of CG realism. Star Wesley Snipes clearly pays attention to Hong Kong cinema, and on that score, Blade looks prescient. The digital effects, however, have aged very badly: Much of the blood is blatantly computerized, and the digital skeletons that pop out of the vampires at the end have since been surpassed by some video games.

Blade II, then, is forced to play catch-up, and on the visual score, it does so admirably. Vampire skeletons don't just shatter; they burst into flame, then shatter, then leave ashes that scatter to the winds. A severed fragment of head contains an eye that continues to look around. Vampires un-break their own bones and perform open-spine surgery on one another. Mexican horror director Guillermo Del Toro brings in many of his own peculiar fascinations, among them rust, sewers, things floating in hazy translucent liquid, graphic dissection, addiction metaphors, S&M gear and Ron Perlman (Cronos).

As for the action, it's mostly up to the level we've come to expect. The new villains are the Reapers, a recent mutant vampire strain impervious to everything but sunlight; they can walk up walls and fly through the air like Moria Orcs caught in the Matrix. Blade himself has also gained some hang-time abilities, though these are left unexplained -- not that anyone cares.

Turns out Blade's father figure, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson, looking great), didn't really die in the first film and is brought back early on in the sequel -- conveniently for the movie's budget, he's being held in Prague -- mostly to act disgruntled and call people names like "Nipplehead." Since Snipes's acting technique for these films is to be a taciturn sourpuss, the pair might be insufferable if not for the addition of a new sidekick, Scud (Norman Reedus), a sort of stoner Q who calls Blade "B" and designs new weapons such as a solar flare bomb and a fist strap-on that injects undead foes with anti-coagulant.

Meanwhile, an ancient vampire count, who looks and sounds like a marble statue of Max Schreck, has sent his perfectly normal-looking daughter, Nyssa (Leonor Varela) -- who emotes almost as well as a block of marble -- to make a truce with Blade so that, as a team, they can deal with the unpleasant Reapers. Proving that the casting directors are hip, the team of vampires Blade hooks up with includes Perlman; Red Dwarf's Cat, Danny John Jules; and Iron Monkey star Donnie Yen (sorely underutilized, but at least they have him). It's worth noting also that the head Reaper is played by former U.K. teen heartthrob Luke Goss, taking his image all the way in the opposite direction. Think Justin Timberlake with a fanged, vaginal mouth after excessive chemotherapy, and you're close (too bad Toy Biz opted out of doing action figures this time around).

Del Toro's visual style is a good fit for this type of film, and he draws inspiration from both Clive Barker and David Cronenberg, influences you can't really go wrong with. It's unfortunate that he's bogged down with a script by Marvel co-chairman Avi Arad's favorite hack screenwriter, David S. Goyer, who was responsible for that godawful Nick Fury TV movie with David Hasselhoff. Yes, Goyer wrote the first Blade, but director Stephen Norrington smartly kept the dialogue to an absolute minimum (though he did leave in possibly the most nonsensical hero quip ever: "Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice-skate uphill!" What?). Del Toro's first language isn't English, so maybe it isn't as obvious to him that long stretches of dialogue like "You have been our most feared enemy, but now there's something worse on the streets" should have been chopped out during the project's development phase. A crib from Star Wars and a reference to rival comic publisher DC's The Dark Knight Returns aren't helpful, either.

And as fun as the action is, the pacing's off. Most of the blowout battles occur early in the movie, and the momentum completely falters once most of the cast has been killed off, leaving Snipes to battle an arch-foe in an anti-climactic one-on-one fight. Perhaps a better female lead is needed: N'Bushe Wright got Snipes to show his softer side in the first Blade. Here he's a mere killing machine, but since we don't ever see the vampires killing innocent humans, we don't feel his anger.

Nonetheless, there's plenty to enjoy, and fans of Hong Kong-style action should be reasonably happy. The movie's soundtrack is also a strong contender for best of 2002, pairing up hip-hop and techno acts like Redman/Gorillaz, Bubba Sparxx/Crystal Method and so forth. Just be advised, guys: Blade II is as estrogen-free as movies get, so you might want to leave your date behind for this one, or she's gonna make you feel like you owe her, big time.