DVD Review: Blade II

My friend Chuck and I were so blown away by the original Blade that we created a new adjective:

wesley, adj. unflinchingly bad-ass; the highest attainable level of cool

And in the four years since the film’s release, we’ve uttered phrases like “Catch you fuckers at a bad time?” and “Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice-skate uphill” more times than we’d like to admit. Blade scored big box office with a modest budget, and produced one of the most feature-packed DVDs of its time.

Blade II finds Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, Mimic) taking over the director’s chair from Stephen Norrington. Wesley Snipes is back as vampire slayer Blade, the legendary “Daywalker” who has all the strengths but none of the weaknesses of his bloodsucking prey. Kris Kristofferson returns as Blade’s friend and mentor, Whistler, rescued from both vampires and vampirism at the beginning of the film.

The first movie established culture, hierarchy, and science for vampires. The sequel goes for a darker style but does so with considerably less substance. Blade is confronted with a plea by vampire princess Nyssa (Leonor Varela) and her creepy, Nosferatu-looking father. New creatures called Reapers are feeding on vampires, and the vampire nation needs the help of its greatest enemy to combat this new threat before all life on the planet is wiped out. Blade must fight alongside the Blood Pack, a team of vampire commandos created to destroy him. Their leader is the massive, moody Reinhardt (Ron Perlman), who makes it clear to Blade that as soon as their mutual mission is accomplished, the truce is over.

Blade II is a brutal, bloody movie that relies almost entirely on gruesome action. The results are hit and miss. Most of the film’s key fight sequences incorporate digital stuntmen that simply don’t move the right way. The film’s best sword-fighting sequence, in which Blade fights two sword-wielding vampire assailants, also features the film’s worst digital effects. The digital portion only adds a couple of seconds, and the graphics are so jerky and unrealistic that they kill the style and momentum of the fight. Wesley Snipes, a powerful and formidable fighter, doesn’t need any help looking like a bad-ass. Donnie Yen did much of the film’s fight choreography and appears in a small supporting role as a Blood Pack member, but he’s reduced to just another guy holding a weapon. Blade II doesn’t allow the new characters to shine, and it can’t decide what its main conflict should be. It’s simply one fight scene after another, and nothing ever really clicks.

It’s a shame. Wesley (the man) has never been more wesley (the adjective). His performance is looser this time around and the fight scenes are much more advanced (until the inevitable digital “assistance” appears). Blade II is entertaining, but it’s not nearly as smart or as interesting as the first one.

The first disc is the anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen version of the film. Audio options are Dolby Digital 6.1 DTS-ES Surround, 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo Surround. Audio and subtitles are English only. Guillermo del Toro and producer Peter Frankfurt team up for one audio commentary, while Snipes and writer David S. Goyer join forces for the second. There’s also an isolated musical score.

Every other aspect of making the film is on the second disc of this incredible DVD. An 83-minute “making of” feature has an additional 16 minutes of supplements that can be viewed during the feature or separately. Nearly 25 minutes of deleted scenes can be viewed with or without commentary. According to del Toro, “What you will see is mostly crap.” But a lot of the stuff here is really good. There’s more fight footage, more details about vampire physiology and a flashback to Whistler’s first meeting with a teenage Blade. It’s fun listening to del Toro, whose next film will be Hellboy with Ron Perlman, laugh hysterically about how terrible he thinks these scenes are.

Six key scenes can be viewed by original script, shooting script, storyboards, or “on the set” mode, which shows the creation of these sequences from a “behind the scenes” point of view. Every feature on the DVD breaks down into more and more features. Art galleries, production notebooks, trailers and numerous other features round out this incredible disc.

Wesley is wesley. The DVD is certainly wesley. The film itself is not as wesley as the original, but still kicked enough ass to keep me happy.