'Blade II': A-Positive

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 22, 2002

I like to think of the great humanist French film critic Andre Bazin. I like to think of his belief in the truth of cinema, his conviction that through cinema could the world be healed.

Then I like to think of him seeing "Blade II."

I think it would go something like this:


There is no possible adult justification for the picture. It is pure pagan glee, a raptor's flesh fest, a zesty paprika of cannibal stew, stylized toward almost total abstraction, beyond describing, beyond imagining except by its makers.

And that is why it's so good.

Enter here, ye who dare. All others turn back.

What "Blade II" has that so few others of its ilk, or any ilk, do is an actual director. He has a worldview. You may not agree with that worldview, but it's there all the same, and it commands respect for the consistency with which he adheres to it and how its organizing principle permits his oeuvre to cohere.

Here's his worldview: "Let's eat the weak."

No, not exactly Christian or progressive, but you can't have everything. He's Guillermo del Toro, who achieved his breakthrough in 1993 with "Chronos," and then went American less successfully with 1997's "Mimic." His last film was "The Devil's Backbone," a brooding ghost story set during the Spanish Civil War.

This time, freed by a large budget, a major star who gets it, and uncountable gallons of fake blood, he's created something ghastly yet wonderful at the same time.

Derived from Marvel comic books, the movie continues the tale of the half-man, half-vampire Blade (Wesley Snipes), who has become the human champion in the war between the races. But in vampire movies as everywhere, politics intrude; a third subspecies has mutated, and it feasts on vampires themselves, quite effectively. Thus a truce is established: Blade, helped by a vampire special-operations team that looks like a punk garage band that has just looted a National Guard armory, heads out to take down this bad form of vampire.

The setting is Eastern Europe, the production standards high, the violence kinetic and stylized, the acting surprisingly good (with one drab exception); and the plot, while nonsensical if you don't believe in vampires, has a truly intriguing force and subtext. If you're going to make a movie about vampires fighting with automatic weapons in crowded Eastern European go-go joints, this is the way to do it.

It's also amazing how much an actor can contribute, even to an overabundantly effects-driven piece like this. I speak, yes, of Snipes, who is already so stylized he seems to have stepped from an Egyptian sarcophagus and then gotten a makeover from Aubrey Beardsley, but also of Ron Perlman. He's Blade's primary antagonist on the ops team, and what a great performance!

Really, everyone in the movie looks like a Droog or a Druid, yet Perlman manages to give his fellow an extreme individuality. That you even notice him among the sets and the slaughter and the too many guys in leather jackets with bald, veiny heads and automatic shotguns is a miracle; that you like him (even though he's the bad guy) goes beyond the miraculous.

The bald guys are fun, too, one being the master vampire Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann) and the other his mutant enemy Nomak (rocker Luke Goss). Alas, the weak link is Leonor Varela, who plays a vampire with complex family ties; while beautiful, she never seems animated. Okay, so, she's dead. Still . . .

Well, anyway: This movie is for a variety of segmented audiences: children whose souls have been leeched by MTV, folks with IQs under 100 and geniuses with IQs over 150. You normal people stay away: You won't get it, you won't like it, and you'll feel violated by it.

BLADE II (R, 115 minutes) Contains extreme vampire violence. At area theaters.

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