Genre fans likely will respond in sanguine fashion to the literal and figurative overkill in “Blade II,” an aggressively over-the-top followup to the hit 1998 comicbook adaptation toplining Wesley Snipes as an eponymous anti-hero who’s half-human, half-vampire and all business when it comes to battling bloodsuckers. Director Guillermo del Toro evokes the lurid pulpiness of his “Mimic,” rather than the understated spookiness of his “The Devil’s Backbone,” as he injects fresh blood into the franchise. But pic may be too grisly to extend its appeal beyond its fan base, and it could fade faster than Dracula at daybreak after posting solid opening-week numbers. But it likely will stake out immortality as a cult-fave homevid.
Snipes once again provides the proper amount of ultracool gravitas as he slices, dices, shoots and scores in the title role. For the benefit of those who tuned in late, scripter David S. Goyer (also returning from the original) provides a brisk precis of character’s backstory. Years ago, Blade’s pregnant mother was bitten by a vampire shortly before giving birth to him. The mix of human and vampire blood resulted in a hybrid offspring — or, to use vampire parlance, a “daywalker” — who has all of the powers, and none of the weaknesses, associated with the undead.
Blade has devoted his life to ridding the world of suck-heads (his epithet of choice) like the monster that claimed his mama. Trouble is, sooner or later, he may develop a resistance to the serum that stifles his sanguinary cravings.
Del Toro fashions “Blade II” as a neo-noir adventure that combines the bold visual style of comicbook storytelling with the frenetically acrobatic mayhem of a Hong Kong action film. Blade himself is a Batmanly figure in cool shades and black-on-black bulletproof attire, armed with devices more lethal than anything in the Caped Crusader’s utility belt: In addition to silver spikes and silver-tipped bullets, his arsenal includes a booby-trapped samurai sword, hypodermics filled with liquid garlic — and, most prominently, knife-edged boomerangs.
But wait, there’s more: Del Toro ups the action quotient by employing Hong Kong fight master Donnie Yen (“Iron Monkey”) as co-star and fight choreographer, and occasionally increases the film speed to give some scenes the look and feel of Japanese anime.
Probably the smartest move is resuscitating Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), Blade’s grizzled mentor and weapons designer, who appeared to be seriously dead at the end of the first “Blade.” Kristofferson’s drawling sass provides a nicely sarcastic counterpoint to the fast-and-furious action.
In “Blade II,” Blade is pitted against undead overlord Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann). But Damaskinos proposes a temporary alliance with Blade to defeat a common enemy: a super-race of vampires, known as Reapers, who feast on suck-heads and humans.
The forces of darkness are led by Nomak (Luke Goss), a ghastly nightcrawler who resembles the title bogeyman of F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” and whose lower jaw easily expands into insectlike mandibles. (All the better to bite you with, my dear.)
To nip the Reapers in the bud, Blade reluctantly joins forces with a Blood Pack, soldier-vampires originally trained to hunt and destroy him. Reinhardt (Ron Perlman), leader of the pack, obviously shouldn’t be trusted. There’s only slightly more doubt about the sincerity of Nyssa (Leonor Varela), another of Blade’s temporary allies, who just happens to be Damaskinos’ daughter.
Filmed on appropriately spooky and/or decrepit locations in and around Prague in the Czech Republic, “Blade II” proceeds at the pace of a silver bullet, sometimes at the expense of narrative clarity. The borderline-chaotic fight scenes, set to a deafeningly loud rap-rock/heavy metal score, are directed and edited for maximum kinetic impact. A few extend way past the point of comfort, but the overall effect is more exhilarating than exhausting.
Special effects — including, of course, the depiction of disintegrating vampires — are uninspired but effective.
Snipes acquits himself with unforced authority and a smidgen of self-mockery as he reprises his guns-and-poses performance of “Blade.” Supporting players of note include Kristofferson, Perlman, Varela and Norman Reedus as a grungy weapons designer.
Funniest exchange occurs when Blade asks if one of Damaskinos’ minions is human: “Barely,” the underling replies. “I’m a lawyer.”