Dir Guillermo Del Toro. US. 2002. 117mins.

Gruesome and ghastly violence, state-of-the-art special effects, fast-moving action and stylish cutting and framing can't conceal the fact that there's a big blank space at the centre of Blade II. Largely this is the fault of David Goyer's slender, meandering, and uninvolving scripting of the vampire saga. The gifted Wesley Snipes reprises the title role, first seen in New Line Cinema's surprise 1998 hit, Blade, parading on the screen with flair and elegance. But although dressed stylishly in black leather, he is given nothing interesting to say or to do as the comic-book hero who's half human and half vampire. As this New Line release opens in the US on the same day as the PG-rated family fable E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, it is likely to face no serious competition in the marketplace and may well enjoy a debut box office in the high $20m bracket. It is doubtful, however, that Blade II will reach beyond the core audience for such fare. At the end of the day, it is likely to gross only slightly more than the original.

Although Blade II is a big-budget, big-screen entertainment, it perfectly lends itself to home video, where it's bound to make a stronger commercial impression. On a wintry night, global fans of comic strips and videogame adaptations may want to enjoy a double feature with Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.

By now it's abundantly clear that there are two types of Guillermo Del Toro film: the ones made in his own language such as his Mexican horror debut Cronos and, most recently, the Spanish ghost story The Devil's Backbone; and the American flicks, over which he has less control, such as the monster movie Mimic and now Blade II. Although this new instalment in New Line's franchise is more proficiently directed than the first, in many other respects it is inferior to the 1998 picture.

As in the first film, based on the Marvel Comics superhero, Blade's hybrid of a hero (or rather anti-hero) is consumed by an obsessive desire to avenge the curse of his birth and save the human race from a blood-drenched Armageddon. Audiences are reminded that the blood in Blade's veins is the result of a vicious vampire attack on his mother before he was born as a half-human, half-vampire hybrid.

The new horror-action feature goes out of its way to validate Blade's labelling of his enemies as "suck-heads". Thick blood spurts from just about every part of the body in almost every scene. Other special effects, some never seen before, show the step-by-step disintegration of human bodies, especially heads, until they become ash-like fireworks that are eventually blown away by the wind.

The new story is structured along a variety of family relationships: father-son, father-daughter and even brother-sister. One good story point is the return of Whistler (Kristofferson), Blade's mentor and weapons master, who was seemingly killed off in the first film. Having lost his own family, Whistler has become a father figure to Blade ever since he was a kid wandering the streets. Now living in Prague, where the entire film was shot, Blade learns that Whistler is alive and sets out to find him. The scenes between Snipes and Kristofferson, who sports long white hair and has retained his deep throaty voice, are among the few that are emotionally engaging. Otherwise, the feature is a string of special effects attached to an extremely slight yarn.

One of the dubious, supposedly novel ideas of the second chapter is to show Blade's different attitude toward his lifelong metier of hunting vampires wherever they are. If, in the first film, Blade was brooding and reticent, then in this one he's much more comfortable with his work, enjoying kicking ass and taking on his enemies either one by one or en masse. This thread offers director Del Toro an excuse to utilise ingredients of the increasingly Hollywoodised Hong Kong school of action films, which account for some of the film's most energetic and fun sequences.

Some tension is introduced over the division of roles and responsibilities when Whistler joins Blade, who has been working with Scud (Reedus), a brilliant, pot-smoking slacker and inventor of devious weapons. Contrasting this bickering macho trio is another one, headed by Blade's sworn enemy, vampire overlord Damaskinos (Kretschmann), his strong and darkly exotic daughter Nyssa (Varela) and her co-warrior Asad (John-Jules). Unexpectedly, Demaskinos offers Blade a truce in the name of a nobler mission: joining forces to stop the Reapers, a super-race of vampire leeches who just drain blood.

The twist is that the Reapers are on a hunt not only for humans but also for vampires. To fight the Reapers and their razor-sharp teeth and lighting speed, Blade is forced to align himself with a high-powered team of vampires. Switching gears, the story now turns into a kind of Dirty Dozen, with Blade leading a crew of hardened killers (claiming such names as Chupa, Priest, Snowman and Lighthammer) and their own chief, Reinhardt (a campy Perlman).

The plot sounds more complex and complicated than it actually is. Indeed, what the audience mostly sees is an aggressive, non-stop string of sensory overkill special effects that, with a few exceptions, leave them exhausted rather than exhilarated by the end of the overly long picture.

Del Toro's previous films were each visionary and coherent in their own way (and that includes the flawed Mimic). By contrast, Blade II represents a blend of genres - thrillers, action movies, horror features, vampire flicks - and styles, specifically neo-noir and the Hong Kong school. Entire sequences recall such quintessential films as Alien (mega close-ups reveal the internal structure and shape of a human tongue or chest) and Aliens (the use of darkly-lit, often blue-tinged interiors, in tunnels and sewers). And while the fight scenes show Snipes as a sexy and highly acrobatic actor, they arrest the little momentum the narrative has. For the most part, however, the visual effects stand on their own, and as such, are likely to please the core base of predominantly young male viewers.

Pro co: Amen Ra Films, Imaginary Forces
US dist:
New Line
Int'l sales: New Line Int'l
Exec prods:
Lynn Harris, Michael De Luca, David S. Goyer, Tobey Emmerich, Stan Lee, Avi Arad
Prods: Peter Frankfurt, Wesley Snipes, Patrick Palmer
Scr: David S Goyer, based on the Marvel Comics
Cinematography: Gabriel Beristain
Prod des:
Carol Spier
Ed: Peter Amundson
Music: Marco Beltrami, Danny Saber
Main cast:
Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman, Leonor Varela, Norman Reedus, Thomas Kretschmann, Danny John-Jules