BLADE II: Lonely Hearts Club

Blade just wants to be loved

In 2002, Guillermo del Toro, then a 36-year-old fresh off directing The Devil’s Backbone, one of his seminal Spanish-language works, began work on his first blockbuster. It was a sequel to Blade, a vampire movie that burst onto the scene in 1998 with the most exciting black superhero we had seen in ages (or at all), explosive action, and deep mythology drawn from the Marvel comics that birthed it. Blade tapped into a reservoir of racial and sexual dynamics, much of which was entirely lost to me until Vyce’s excellent post about it. Blade II needed to deliver. The result is somewhat of a mixed bag. On one hand, the sequel lacked much of the subtext in the first movie, opting for a far-too-subtle allegory on the experimentation on black men. On the other hand, it tapped into a pulpier, more bombastic version of itself and luxuriated in a more vibrant world – the world of Guillermo del Toro’s monsters.

Vampires appear to be del Toro’s favorite kind of monster, making him a good match for the Blade trilogy. The human-appearing vampires in Blade II are elegant, their human faces hiding their true nature. Of course, this is partly an excuse to never have to put actors in a bunch of prosthetics, but del Toro understood what made Wesley Snipes such an icon in this role. He understood what audiences loved from a Blade movie. Blade is a singular force on his world; as the Daywalker, the rare vampire who possesses all of their strengths and few of their weaknesses, Snipes plays Blade like a man who knows he’s the biggest and baddest in the room – which is why it’s all the more touching when we find out that between the first and second movies he’s rescued Whistler from being a vampire captive. Blade may be unique, but he’s not alone and he doesn’t want to be.

This is why it’s especially fun to see him bounce off the Bloodpack, a group of elite vampire warriors assembled to kill Blade. Damaskinos, the lord of the vampires, has ordered them to work with Blade to kill Nomak, Damaskinos’ son. It turns out that papa has turned his son into a Reaper, a new strain of vampire. Nomak is roaming the Czech Republic turning vampires into Reapers, threatening humans and vampires alike. Blade and the Bloodpack are tasked to stop him before it’s too late. The Bloodpack is one of my favorite teams in the Blade Trilogy. Their late-90s, early-2000s leather getups are emblematic of the time in which the movie was made but each of them has a unique look, weapons, and fighting style. They are the perfect accompaniment to a Blade movie: they’re interesting but not the focus, they’re cool but never as cool as Blade, and they stay firmly in the shadowy edge of good and bad.

Two of the Bloodpack stand out: Donnie Yen (who also coordinated the fights), as Snowman, who forgot his shirt in the wash but had to go hit the clubs anyway (with his trusty breastplate). He’s the rare actor who can go toe-to-toe with Snipes (or perhaps it’s the other way around) in the fight department and it’s a joy to watch him here lay waste to some Reapers.

The other notable member of the Bloodpack is of course, Ron Perlman, a frequent del Toro collaborator. Here he’s Reinhardt, who isn’t just a racist thorn in Blade’s side, but also one who challenges Blade’s supremacy atop the vampire food chain. It’s what makes his comeuppance all that much more satisfying. Blade and his team-up with the Bloodpack take up most of the second act and I only wish that the Bloodpack was better developed as characters. Reduced to their individual fight scenes and without a lot of personality, the other individual members of the Bloodpack don’t get much opportunity to develop any kind of rapport (antagonistic or otherwise) with Blade. Part of what makes these movies so fun is Blade’s dry wit; it’s so much fun to watch Blade’s verbal sparring throughout these movies that I wish there had been more devoted to that.

Also interesting is what del Toro does with Nomak. Del Toro treats Nomak and the Reapers with great care. A regular vampire turned inside out and made into something grotesque by his own father, Nomak proclaims that he hates vampires and vows revenge on his father. In the third act, Blade and Nomak meet for the last time in a fight to the death. While the fight is stylish and fun, that’s not all there is. You see, del Toro gives Nomak the last word, a short monologue that allows him to impart to Blade and the audience one last plea to understand where he’s coming from – sure, he’s murdered some folks, but he’s a victim, too.

In his last scene, when he puts his hands on the sword Blade has plunged into his chest and delivers the final blow, it’s almost poetic. Make no mistake – Nomak is a villain and a threat to the world. If he hadn’t done it, Blade surely would have. He’s taking his destiny into his own hands, acknowledging his defeat, and freeing himself from torment. The decision to allow Nomak to deliver the last blow is vital to shaping how we see Nomak both as a villain and a victim and helps to cast the movie before it in a slightly different light. It also helps us think about Blade differently; here is a man who has reasons to tell humanity he’s done with them. After all, humans are frequently complicit in upholding the vampire order and killing other humans. What does Blade owe them? Vampires have taken almost everything he values. This comes to the forefront when Blade infiltrates Damaskinos’ compound and the vampire lord disables him with the intent to dissect and experiment on him. Whistler, the one person in the world he trusts with his life, is the one who saves Blade. Their scene, with a silent and prone Blade, injured and possibly already dying, is far more touching than would be in most blockbusters. These movies have always been about Blade, but also about Blade finding a home with Whistler in a world that needs Blade but doesn’t acknowledge him. Blade continues to work on behalf of humanity, anyway, doing the tough and thankless work of a hero. He, like Nomak, gets to decide his own fate. Sometimes that’s what is most important.

Del Toro was recently nominated for an Academy Award for The Shape of Water, a story about a mute woman who finds joyful companionship with a captured fish creature from South America. I hope audiences realize that the man who directed such a beautiful, personal tale is the same man who directed a vampire blockbuster, too. Rather than shunning his past work as the efforts of a man who needed a paycheck, I hope they see that Blade II is a sincere labor of love.

  • Andrew Clark

    Lovely, Diane!

    Something that really struck me about the movie as a kid (though I wasn’t really able to express it until now) is how it really makes the vampires sympathetic in a way they weren’t in the first one. From the opening scene where Nomak takes down the blood bank to the way the Bloodpack is picked off (RIP Donnie), we’re actually asked to emphasize with ALL the monsters in the movie. It really shows the way that GDT wears his heart on his sleeve for the creatures in our world that scuttle in the darkness.

  • Great write-up. After the first Blade, it took a little while for this one to grown on me, but now I own it. I’m a big fan of the “homeless superhero” look Nomak has.

    I also love your point about acknowledging GdT’s entire oeuvre. Years ago, the video store I worked at briefly had a rival move in up the street. They were super snobby douchebags who organized their movies by country of origin, and they tricked hipsters into working there for free by claiming it was communtiy outreach. Anyway, they had shelves dedicated to Directors and one was just for Juenet, and they had all of his films lined up and faced… except Aliens 4, and I was like… fuck you guys.

  • jeves23

    I love this movie. It’s only a shade lesser in my books than the first film, which I think is mostly due to the (completely different from the first, but still infectious) energy that GdT infuses the film with. It’s dumber and sillier, yes, but more earnest as well. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who sees and appreciates that.

  • The Canadian George Wendt

    I’ve accepted, in the last few years, that BLADE II is my favorite English-language GdT film. I’m going to keep on hoping that whatever the Marvel/Netflix shows end up being once the move to the great grand unified Disney Streaming Service happens, he’ll be jonesing for another bloodsucker fix, and he can come aboard for a new Blade show. I really would love to see more of his version of the international vampire conspiracy.

    Reedus is pretty great in this movie, too. Scud (“like ‘Stud'”) is about as fully-formed a version of the persona that he’d ride to (relative) fame & fortune as Ryan Reynolds’ is in TRINITY.

  • Linkfx

    Blade 2 is one of my favorite movies period. One of the best fucking times I’ve ever had at the theater. It’s poetic it’s violent it’s got insane cgi camera moves way before they were cool and actually add weight and violence to their fight scenes instead of making them weightless and without threat a la all MCU films.

    Guillermo del Toro did make this and the Shape of Water, and what is compelling to me is how incredibly similar they are as movies. About how they are about love and friendship and about doing what is right even at the risk of your own mortal peril. There are so many parallels. They are both masterpieces and I am all in on del Toro picking up some Oscar gold but I also know he’s too good for that crowd.