“Oh I get it; you’ve been training for two years to take me down and now here I am. Oooooh, so exciting isn’t it?”
Yes its exciting Blade but it’s not very interesting. While Guillermo Del Toro undeniably brings energy and creativity to the vampire hunter’s second film, there is so little character development or thematic material to get your teeth into (excuse the terrible pun). As per the law of diminishing returns, the first film does such a great job of introducing writer David Goyer’s reconceived notion of the modern vampire, how they operate, how Blade can defeat them, and how he is able to combat the nocturnal weaknesses within him that there seems to be little new ground to break.
I understand the film has its fans but, luckily for me, there seems to be a divisive split between fans of the first film who dismiss all that has followed it and those who believe the series didn’t find its footing until ‘Blade II’. I do applaud the filmmakers for not making a carbon copy of the first in any way. While Norrington’s film is brooding, desolate and insane, Del Toro’s is fast, fun and completely hollow. Due to the fact that chasing monsters in sewer tunnels is never something that has held my attention and, following on from my piece on the first film, the return of the Whistler character is so quickly and nonsensically resolved, I find myself watching what amounts to a typical action movie.
For me, the film goes downhill from about the five minute mark. As soon as the opening credits finish, we immediately cut to Blade chasing some boring Euro-trash vampires through corridors accompanied by some ear piercing thumping which passes for a score. Well shot though the action is, the mindless drudgery of it goes on for another ten minutes before Blade uncovers Whistler’s body. That is ten minutes wasted on Blade fighting the kind of boring goons that you can find in any action film.
I would have much preferred a complete overhaul of the first act of the film, following straight on from the opening scene at the blood bank where our villain Nomak has been revealed as an evolutionary new species of vampire which feeds on both humans and his own. After the credits, Blade opens the door on that very same place not too long after Nomak’s attack. Instead of a house of vampires waiting to be cleaned out, Blade finds halls and corridors littered with the blood and corpses of his immortal enemies. The scene sets one of the principal themes of the film; of your enemies not being who you thought they were. As Blade begins his latest quest, everything he thought he knew about whom to trust and who to drive a stake through is turned on its head.
In the actual film, Blade is brought to the headquarters of the ruling vampire nation and is simply told about Nomak and this new species called the Reapers and what they can do. A similarly expository scene introduces ‘The Bloodpack’, the A-Team of vampires if you will, who have been training for two years for the sole purpose of hunting down Blade. It just seems to me that the rules of ‘show and tell’ work much better in a comic book movie if you show instead of tell. So imagine, as Blade investigates the clinic and crawls over vampires with their throats torn out, those same corpses suddenly reform as Reapers and spring to life. Just as Blade is facing the overwhelming odds of an enemy he’s never faced before and doesn’t know how to kill, the Bloodpack arrive on scene to even the odds. Weakened from their need to feed, the Reapers have their fill of combat and disperse leaving Blade alone with the hunters and, despite their orders to go after Nomak, the more volatile members of the Bloodpack cannot resist the opportunity to take on Blade instead, though this eventually leads to a ceasefire. Like I say; show instead of tell. Rather than telling us about these new characters, we get to see them in action and figure things out for ourselves.
Having exhausted his arsenal on the Reapers, Blade is in no condition to fight a team specifically trained to kill him. A smarter person would escape but Blade isn’t going anywhere. After two years of searching, he has found Whistler and as the Bloodpack surround Blade, he keeps his back to the tank of blood containing his surrogate father, like an animal protecting its young. After Blade locates Whistler in the film, there is a lot to enjoy about the initial distrust between the two and how, even after a dues ex machina is used to cure his vampirism, there is still the lingering feeling that it hasn’t worked. I just wish that had turned out to be the case.
Having Whistler remain a vampire would have accomplished three things for me. Firstly, it would retain the emotional resonance of his death scene in the first film. As it turns out in ‘Blade II’, the detox thingy injection used to cure his condition actually does work and Whistler is his old self again as if nothing happened by about the 20 minute mark. It always feels cheap to me when death has no consequences. Even when they brought Spock back to life in ‘Star Trek III’, they made sure Kirk paid the price for it by losing his command, his ship and his son. Secondly, by finishing Whistler’s arc in the second film we would be spared the utter pointlessness of his presence in ‘Blade Trinity’. Finally, we could have removed the completely unnecessary romantic sub-plot between Blade and Nyssa (daughter of vampire overlord Eli Damaskinos) in order to focus on the climax of the relationship between Blade and Whistler, of father and son.
If there is a theme buried under all tunnel chases, nightclubs and throat ripping in ‘Blade II’, it seems to be about fathers and sons. The film does have an intriguing dynamic between Damaskinos and the head Reaper Nomak, who turns out to be his son; a genetically engineered attempt to create the perfect vampire. In Nomak we have a character that becomes a mirror image of Blade. He too is a unique anomaly among his race. He too is very hard to kill. And he too is on a mission of retribution to kill his father (don’t forget that Deacon Frost practically was Blade’s father in the first film). Damaskinos says himself that family ties mean nothing next to the preservation of his species.
I would have loved to have seen that relationship mirrored between Blade and Whistler. Whether his mind has become warped due to his mutation or because he genuinely believes it, Whistler is tired of fighting the war against vampires and wants it to end as quickly as possible. To that end, he is willing and able to trap Blade so his body can be harvested and studied to create daywalkers and end the vulnerability of the species. His love for Blade wins out in the end and Whistler helps his son win the day but by the end he chooses suicide rather than the vampire slayer’s sword. Instead of an out of place death scene for Nyssa, disintegrating in Blade’s arms as the sun rises on a new day, Whistler says a final goodbye and walks into the morning light to his death with head held high.
I understand that ‘Blade II' is just an action film and its creative villains, colorful action and the way it made the character even cooler than he was in the first film was enough for a lot of fans. All I think it needed was re-tooling of certain scenes, more focus on character and a stronger theme to make it click. It wasn’t until the third film that things became overwhelmingly bad enough for everyone to agree on the flaws, and unfortunately I have no choice but to revisit the horror of ‘Blade Trinity’ in a few weeks time. Don’t be afraid to join me. We can lick our wounds together.