'Blade II' Is Low-Key One Of The Best Superhero Movies - And An Even Better Monster Movie

While it may be a franchise sequel and a comic book adaptation, Blade II remains one of the best superhero flicks ever - and a truly frightening monster movie. Released in 2002, the blood-drenched action-horror film was helmed by director Guillermo Del Toro, who was a lesser-known genre filmmaker at the time but so steeped in the world of nightmares that his brooding sense of dread permeates every frame.

The film follows the eponymous Blade (Wesley Snipes), who is forced to strike an uneasy alliance with a group of vampire hitmen known as the Bloodpack - mercenaries originally formed by elder vampire lord Eli Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann) specifically to take out Blade himself.

Together, Blade and the Bloodpack hunt down a monstrous super-vampire named Jared Nomak (Luke Goss) who is hunting and feeding on other vampires and turning them into nightmare creatures known as reapers. Along the way, Blade begins to develop feelings for Nyssa (Leonor Varela), one of the vampire assassins and the vampire lord's daughter.

With a supporting cast made up of the incomparably gruff Ron Perlman as one of the mercs, Kris Kristofferson as Blade's mentor and father figure, Abraham Whistler, Norman Reedus as Blade's tech inventor Scud, and famed martial arts star Donnie Yen, Blade II has the star power and deft guiding hand of a horror maestro to make it not only the best of the Blade franchise but also a genuine superhero classic worth revisiting.

  • This Time, Blade Is Hunting Reapers - Super-Vampires With Retractable Three-Way Jaws That Bite, Suck, And Poison Their Prey

    In the first installment in the Blade franchise, the titular daywalker pursued bloodsuckers, staking them through the heart and watching them turn to dust. So, when it came to Blade II, director Guillermo del Toro and screenwriter David Goyer decided to raise the stakes with a frightening race of infected super-vampires. Known as reapers, they are stronger, deadlier, harder to eliminate, and exponentially more creepy than run-of-the-mill vampires. They hunt and feed on non-reaper bloodsuckers and have an unquenchable thirst.

    The most nightmarish aspect of the reapers, apart from their pallid, Nosferatu-like appearance, are their freakish, three-way extending mandibles. Reapers' jaws can split open at the chin and expand, revealing a gaping, toothy, tentacle-filled maw. Fangs protruding from the side mandibles inject a neurotoxin, paralyzing prey. Then, proboscis-like tendrils are used to suck their targets' blood.

  • 'Blade II' Expands The Franchise's Mythology

    The first Blade film gave fans an inside look into the inner workings of the modern vampire society. The aesthetic of the film, set in contemporary Los Angeles, and vibe of its mythos was a blend of high-tech business world and old-world lore. The vampires wore suits, had clans designated by logo-like symbols, and had board meetings in office chairs. There was a corporate feel to the bloodsuckers and their customs.

    With Blade II, the eponymous daywalker is plunged into the dark, wet, cobblestoned streets of Eastern Europe to contend with a vampire lord who looks less like Udo Kier's Gitano Dragonetti from the first film and more like a waterlogged corpse. Eli Damaskinos lives in an ancient castle, he wears ritualistic robes, his decor includes giant clocks and stone facades, and he rejuvenates himself in a giant pool of blood shaped like a keyhole.

    The way things work for vampires in Prague doesn't appear to be the same as in Los Angeles. Crisp suits are replaced by high-collared quasi-religious garb. There is a monarchical feel to the organization, and bloodlines seem to matter more. It was a smart, frightening evolution of the mythology that mirrored del Toro's directorial choice to focus more on the terror of vampires than the action of Blade hunting them.

  • The Film Is About An Attempt To Create A Master Vampire Race

    Blade's unique physiology as a daywalker - a half-vampire who has all the strengths of vampires without any of their weaknesses, except for a thirst for blood - has often put him in the crosshairs of his foes. In Blade II, he proves to be the key to creating a master race of vampires who would be pure-blooded but no longer relegated to living in the shadows.

    As it turns out, the reapers are the result of a modified genetic strain of DNA, transferred through blood, that turns them into nightmare monsters. This so-called Reaper Strain was created by the ancient vampire lord Eli Damaskinos; however, it turned out to be something of a failure. While the reapers are stronger, faster, and deadlier, their hunger makes them go insane and burn out quickly, starving within a matter of hours if they haven't fed.

    What's worse, the reapers still aren't resistant to daylight. While they can absorb bullets, knives, and explosives, UV light burns them up just as quickly as regular vampires. Damaskinos devises a plan to take down Blade and dissect him for his unique genetic material, which he plans on splicing into embryonic vampire fetuses to birth a whole generation of nearly impervious bloodsuckers who would rule the night and day.

  • The Film’s Fleshy, Slimy Prosthetics Bring Its Creatures To Tangible, Disgusting Life

    Like so many of del Toro's best monster stories, Blade II blends together elements of practical effects, cutting-edge makeup, and computer generated special effects to create an unsettlingly visceral presence that makes it feel like you're watching something that really does hunt humans in the middle of the night.

    Whether it's the splayed-open jaw of Jared Nomak and his reaper brethren or the translucent, weathered grey flesh of the ancient vampire Eli Damaskinos, the grossest and freakiest parts of Blade II come to life with some incredible work by the film's makeup team and some pioneering CG work by Tippett Studios.

    The studio, which was notably responsible for bringing the reaper's immediately recognizable three-part jaws to life, explains on its site: "Tippett used state-of-the-art face-replacement techniques to superimpose digital prosthetics upon the live-action actors to create effects that were not only convincing but terrifying as well." When you see the reapers in action, it's impossible to argue.

  • Famed Martial Artist Donnie Yen Choreographed Many Of The Film’s Elaborate Fight Scenes

    When it comes to the action sequences in Blade II - be it swordplay, gunplay, or hand-to-hand combat - everything feels kinetic, brutal, and cutting-edge, with an authenticity you didn't see quite so often in action films of the same period. That superb level of quality action cinema comes from del Toro's decision to hire Donnie Yen - one of the most respected martial artists and action directors of all time - to choreograph the fights.

    Yen explained in an interview that he was chosen to be a part of the film because del Toro was a fan of his work in Hong Kong cinema and wanted to cast him as a member of the Bloodpack. During their first meeting, the pair decided Yen should handle the fight choreography as well, and it proved to be a great match between himself and Snipes.

    "We started working with Wesley to see what he can do. Immediately we saw he's very capable, and very knowledgeable about Chinese martial arts," Yen said. "He worked really hard. And as we worked together, the choreography got more and more complex. He's probably one of the best martial artists in the American industry. He's both a great dramatic actor and a great martial arts actor."

    Yen explained that he came up with swordplay techniques for Blade II that were "a combination of Chinese broadsword and double-edged sword, with some Japanese style too." The effort pays off in a big way on screen. Yen also ended up playing one of the film's coolest characters - a mute vampire assassin called Snowman, whom Yen very astutely described as a "cyber-samurai."

  • It’s A Franchise Sequel, But It’s A Guillermo Del Toro Movie All Over

    When director Stephen Norrington helmed the first Blade, he took on the challenge of combining horror with modern high-tech action and did an admirable job. So, when looking for a man to helm the sequel - after Norrington turned down the offer - producers turned to del Toro, who'd just finished filming the soon-to-be classic Spanish horror The Devil's Backbone. He was already celebrated for his distinct aesthetic, even before helming the works for which he's most celebrated today.

    Del Toro brought many of his signature visual stylings to Blade II, which managed to elevate the film above the traditional franchise sequels we often get from big studios. Where most sequels try to imitate the style and flair of a predecessor, del Toro used Blade II as a conduit into which he channeled some of the darkest imagery and most psychologically nightmarish horror in any comic book movie ever made. He made it his own, while still holding onto the best parts of the original.

    The late film critic Roger Ebert perfectly explained the impact of del Toro's vision on a project like Blade II, writing that the filmmaker "doesn't depend on computers to get him through a movie and impress the kids with fancy fight scenes. He brings his creepy phobias along with him. You can sense the difference between a movie that's a technical exercise (Resident Evil) and one steamed in the dread cauldrons of the filmmaker's imagination."