Stephen Norrington’s Blade was a crucial entry into Marvel movie lore at the time of its release in 1998. With an R-Rated commitment and a dark execution, Blade was the injection of adult-oriented life Marvel needed at the time, with the likes of 1989’s The Punisher and 1990’s Captain America failing on almost every level to provide a concrete foundation to build a cinematic legacy upon. Marvel was in trouble throughout the 90’s but Blade would act as a successful and beloved catalyst for what was to come.
Blade really was the first successful Marvel movie. It grossed over three times its budget and, with its burgeoning success, Marvel gave us the likes of X-Men in 2000 and Spider-Man in 2002, paving the way for what would now be known as the all-important Marvel Cinematic Universe. But with Blade’s success came the quick desire to follow it up with a sequel that would continue both Marvel and New Line Cinema’s (Blade’s distributor) momentum, and many wondered if Blade was just another one-hit-wonder or a franchise here to stay. Stepping up to the challenge was none other than the legendary but relatively unknown at the time, Guillermo Del Toro.
Before Blade II, Del Toro was making a bit of a name for himself as a somewhat independent auteur with movies like Cronos (1993) and The Devil’s Backbone (2001) fascinating critics and fans alike. Del Toro’s work up until 2002 wasn’t exactly raking in the dollar bills or gaining massive exposure but New Line Cinema and Marvel saw something in his work that could be nurtured, and the potential was also there for Del Toro to finally push his creations into the eyes of a bigger audience. It seemed like a winning gamble and when Blade’s director, Stephen Norrington refused the opportunity to direct a sequel, it meant Blade II could possibly benefit from a different perspective behind the camera lens. But no one realistically expected what Blade II would become. Truthfully, many didn’t even think a sequel would happen or be any good. Now, 20 years on, Blade II is just as beloved as the movie that started it all.
Guillermo Del Toro has always been a passionate and avid horror fan and his works have consistently showed this. Even with the likes of Pacific Rim (2013), Del Toro found a way to wriggle in those scary fills and modern thrills. Blade was an action horror movie, but it isn’t hard to see that Blade leant more heavily towards its action aspirations than its darker horror influences. With Blade II, Del Toro was more interested in exploring those juicy horror influences.
Working from a screenplay by Marvel stalwart David S. Goyer, Del Toro aimed to bring a more make-up effects heavy horror influence to the table. As interesting as Deacon Frost was in Blade, Del Toro’s Reaper strain would become the most memorable creation the Blade series had to offer. A large factor in this was Del Toro’s reliance on gnarly creature designs and his unwavering penchant for buckets of gore. That’s not to say Blade wasn’t bloody but Blade II made its predecessor look like a 12’s rating in comparison.
Providing an interesting casting choice in Luke Goss (a member of the 80’s pop band, Bros), Del Toro’s Nomak was a villain far more sinister than Frost’s hipster-esque heartthrob persona in Blade. Nomak was a villain created to bring about nightmares and when you first witness what the Reaper’s are really about you can’t help but squirm uncomfortably. No over-the-top jump scares or loud noises. Just good ol’ fashioned creepiness and a creepiness that immediately recalls the vampiric roots of classic horror cinema like Nosferatu (1922) or genre defining classics like Hammer Horror’s Horror of Dracula (1958). It is easy to see that Del Toro knew how to create creepy vampires, something that was undeniably (bar a small number of scenes) missing from Blade.
Even with this newfound scarier atmosphere, set pieces became darker and with Del Toro’s presence behind the camera – much bigger too. Nothing will ever top the classic bloodbath club opening of the first, but Blade II was less interested in bursts of action segments and more focused on longer infectious set pieces. Another club setting leads to what is deemed the ‘Reaper Nest’ and from there a deliciously dark set piece forms most of the creepy action of Blade II. Where Blade preferred to bring everything out into the spotlight, Blade II keeps it to the shadows and builds on that creepy atmosphere choosing to show its true self carefully here and there for greater effect. A nice tonal shift that really drives home Del Toro’s darkened influences to superb effect.
The action throughout Blade II felt more fearsome too with Blade’s mastery of a sword and his brute strength being displayed to devastating effect. Bones break, arteries are severed and there are fountains of blood (literally). When an on truly top form Wesley Snipes utters, ‘You obviously do not know who you are fucking with’, you know Blade II isn’t interested in treading lightly. And the infamous Reinhardt showdown easily rivals anything Blade has to offer. I might sound like I have it in for Blade but believe me when I say: Blade is a phenomenal, fun action movie, but I just cannot help but admire Blade II that little bit more.
But where Blade II really shines is in the story it must tell. Blade was a fairly simple story of revenge and obsession with power, but Blade II takes the foundations of its predecessor’s tale and expands upon them in interesting ways. The genius dynamic of the hunted working alongside the hunter brings character tensions that lead to some of the series’ best moments. The true intentions of the villain are sympathetic, unlike that of Deacon Frost’s in Blade who comes across as a bit of a spoilt brat (it’s a good thing though). And by Blade II’s conclusion, you can’t help but question who really are the ‘monsters’ and who are the ‘normal’ ones in this whole blood-tinged affair. A nice sub-plot involving Whistler early on creates some nice stakes too and Norman Reedus’ performance as Spud is sure to anger many when the truth peeks out from the darkness.
Guillermo Del Toro’s Blade II is a great action horror movie and one that this writer truly admires. It was also an integral piece in carving out a cinematic legacy for Del Toro. Before Blade II, Del Toro only really enjoyed critical success, but with Blade II’s profitable success Del Toro was put forward into the limelight and rightly so. Many argue Blade as being a better movie and I wouldn’t dispute it as they both have superb qualities, but Blade II won me over as victor with its classic vampire stylings, its interesting sub-plots and sympathetic villain and its overall gnarly vibes. 20 years on and much like Blade, if it wasn’t for Blade II’s success we probably wouldn’t have the MCU as we know it today.