I Against I
Dig that crazy fade. Whatever else you say about Blade (at least the Marvel Comics character as embodied by Wesley Snipes), you have to give it up to the haircut—half-retro, half-futuristic, all severe and mad-at-the-planet. It implies that whole eternal-internal conflict he has going on, that half-vampire, half-human thing, all the self-hating and self-loving that pretty much eats him alive. And, yes, the hair also completes the brooding-superhero’s outfit—the bulging black leather pants, the silver-buckled chest, the huge sword he keeps up against his back, and, of course, the sunglasses. You know you can’t be destroying blood-suckers and saving humanity without the sunglasses.
In his second movie outing, the super-conflicted Blade takes on a whole new race of super-vampires, known as Reapers. Ominously pale and veiny, so white they look blue, these Nosferatu-looking monsters crawl on walls like insects and feed on vampires, ripping out their throats with mouths that open in stages, first peeling back Predator-style, then simultaneously gnawing and penetrating, Alien-style. The first Reaper, Nomak (Luke Goss), appears in Blade II‘s first scene, whacking and chowing down on a few unfortunate vampires who think they’ve got the ideal gig overseeing a Prague blood bank. Lifting his bloody face to a surveillance camera that catches him in the act, Nomak snarls in a helpful self-introduction: “Vampires! I hate vampires!”
You might think that Blade, who notoriously hates vampires like poison, might be inclined to like this guy, but you’d be wrong. “Forget what you think you know,” growls Blade in his opening voice-over (including, apparently, that old adage that vampires can’t be photographed). The Daywalker has his own agenda, still fever-dreaming and raging, but changed too. For one thing, he’s got a new human helper, Scud (Norman Reedus), a weapons-concocting pothead with more attitude and less experience than leather-faced father-figure Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). And for another, he now seems to like the kick-ass coolness of his vampire-slaying mission, to the point that he even looks enthusiastic—even smiles!—on occasion, as in his first Blade II scene, where he takes out a few undead who come at him on motorcycles in a dark alley. Whoosh whoomp whoomp: dead undeads.
The new Blade recalls the Ripley who showed up in Cameron’s Aliens: potent and focused, primed for full-on combat. But while the sequel has a higher body count than the first (with amped up martial arts choreography by Danny Yen, who plays a vampire named Snowman), it is also, thanks to the darkly sinuous imagination of Mexican-born director Guillermo del Toro (Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone), grim and full of menace. At the same time, Blade remains primarily the peculiar and compelling head-case product of an energetic collaboration between star Snipes (his Amen Ra Films produced) and screenwriter David S. Goyer (currently at work on the third installment of the planned trilogy).
And so, some things are the same in Blade’s universe: first, he tracks down Whistler (whose suicide in the first movie sure sounded like a done deal), and resurrects him from the yucky vampiric fate he’s been suffering (the meanies have him floating in a big old blood vat when Blade recovers him); as well, he still has to fix regularly to control the “thirst” (again, a junkie superhero? not so average), and he still has a hard time with what you might call, for lack of a better word, romance.
Whereas too many vampires get off on being sensual and seductive, Blade is most comfortable (or at least used to) being a macho hard-ass: he hides behind those sunglasses, tends to stomp off to be alone in his meditation room, and resents the hell out of anything resembling weakness, which for him, generally speaking means anything connected to vampires, who are, in this universe, victims and incarnations of a virus. Still, Blade has desires and attachments. Where the first film’s object of affection was human, ‘NBushe Wright’s blood specialist, here she’s a sultry ninja-girl vampire.
Nyssa (Leonor Varela) first appears in black bodysuit and mask, with her similarly disguised partner, Asad (Danny John-Jules). They infiltrate Blade’s workshop, engage in a big old martial arts contest, then reveal themselves and make nice with their nemesis, recruiting him to fight alongside them in order to defeat the Reapers. He’s skeptical, naturally, but she’s persuasive, and besides, she grants him gets access to the vampires’ monumental HQ, since her extremely creepy dad (Thomas Kretschmann) is head-suckhead-in-charge. Blade goes for this, because he figures he can blow up the joint with a bomb he has strapped to his body—born righteously mad, now Blade’s become a (potential) terrorist.
The Blade movie politics are never simple, partly because the character is so stuck in between, so caught up in the battle described in the title of Mos Def and Massive Attack’s excellent soundtrack contribution, as “I Against I.” Blade II re-complicates already complex questions about identity and community, justice and loyalty, again allegorizing race (human and vampire, black and white). Blade’s mixed-race status makes him feel alienated, but also special. He keeps fretting himself into a frenzy on a race continuum, sliding between dynamic and charismatic, sinister and galling.
Back in the first movie, owing to his dear departed mother’s horrific fate, Blade pulverized his vampire “father,” the ultrawhite Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff). Here, he hangs on to his grudge against the race, even though, as Nyssa suggests, in doing so, he’s “denying” a crucial part of himself, the yucky sucker part. That he finds himself attracted to her is not a little alarming for Blade, and he deals with it mostly by gnashing his teeth, retreating to his chamber of solitude, disappearing during the gangfights, and reloading his gigantic weapons with silver bullets and garlic shards. (This last despite the fact that, rather inconveniently, the Reapers don’t share the same weaknesses as your standard vampires, but you surely predicted that much of a plot turn.) Nyssa, meantime, focuses on the mission, and pretends that Blade is trustworthy enough to bring to the old vampire HQ.
It turns out he doesn’t have to self-detonate, but he does meet the Bloodpack, an elite vampire team that’s been training for 2 years for one reason—to destroy Blade. These include Snowman, Chupa the Wrestlemania escapee (Matt Schulze), red-wigged girlie Verlaine (Marit Velle Kile) and her bald-headed tat-boy Lighthammer (Daz Crawford), and an Irish longhair called Priest (Tony Curran). They’re the motley crew for sure, and like the first film, this one falls back on the bad young vamps partying down at the all-night dance club: here they snort blood-as-red-crack-powder, tongue-kiss with razor blades, and dig around in each other’s exposed insides: pointedly gross, but perhaps it’s unfair to call it out as “evil” per se. Kids, sensual pleasures, addiction—the connections are too easy to leave unexamined.
When the Bloodpack and Blade meet, they instantly despise one another, and he’s all bossy and insisting that since they came to him, they have to follow his orders they’re suspicious of one another. The most obvious bad-ass is Reinhardt (Ron Perlman, reprising a bit of the fuck-everybody pose he struck for Alien Resurrection). He immediately brings the race issue to the forefront, telling Blade that the burning question they all want answered is, “Do you blush?” No way Blade’s going to take such baiting, so he smacks down Reinhardt, claps an explosive device into the back of his head and keeps the detonator himself; meanwhile, Reinhardt (um, could the sex/race/penis-size metaphors be any more obvious?).
It’s not that Blade lacks for whiter-than-white vampires to hate on, but Reinhardt provides a particularly apt target. But Reinhardt has an even more remarkable adversary, Whistler, with whom he becomes locked in a terminal contest over who can be the illest old-school white guy. Now how screwed up is that? The competition builds gradually, with Reinhardt warning Blade to keep his “dog curbed,” then calling out Whistler (whose face is looking plain scarier and scarier—what the heck kind of bad road did Kristofferson travel during his youth, anyway?) as “hillbilly.” Whistler calls him “Fritz” and “Adolph.” Yeah, they’re bad.
They’re also part of a cultural system. As overt and metaphorical as the film’s race politics are, they remain complex. With their DNA all messed with, the mutant Reapers have their own claim to victimization, as a race, as well as their genocidal urges, much like half-breed Blade, much like any vampire who’s been turned. While vampires are creatures of darkness, quite literally allergic to sunlight, the Blade series recuperates blackness—in his body and perspective. And that’s where the haircut makes so much sense, along with the big guns and sword, the tortured psyche and the comic book hero’s mythos. Blade’s conflicts are almost too deep and shallow at the same time. Too much time and never enough. Or, as Mos Def puts it, “Spread across time till my time never come.”