Comic book movies are big business. Four of the highest grossing movies of all time (at the tim of writing) are comic book films, and the trend of the superhero genre being on top shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Whilst a lot of folks would say that this began with the release of Iron Man in 2008, and the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, these films were doing well for a long while before that, and really began to take life on screen in 1998 when Blade hit cinemas. A movie based on a comic, but clearly for adults, Blade not only showed studios that comic book films can be taken seriously, but that they could earn a lot of money too. As such, it was a foregone conclusion that it would get a sequel.
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Released in 2002, Blade II saw the titular half-vampire vampire hunter go in a slightly different direction from the original, abandoning some of the more grounded elements and embracing the fantastical for what might be the best of the Blade trilogy. The film picks up two years after the events of the first, and begins with Blade (Wesley Snipes) searching for his mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson). Despite having seen to be killed in the first film its revealed that Whistler was actually turned into a vampire, and kidnapped. However, Blade is able to rescue his mentor and cure him of his vampirism, bringing him back onto his team, which now includes a new tech specialist, Scud (Norman Reedus).
Not long after being reunited, Blade and his team are approached by the leaders of the vampire nation, who need his help. It seems like there’s a new type of monster stalking the streets, creatures that feed on vampires and turn them into vicious animals that need to constantly feed to survive. Knowing that once the vampires are gone, it means these ‘reapers’ will turn on the humans, Blade and his team agree to work with the vampires and their crack team of assassins to stop this new threat.
Written by David S. Goyer, the script for Blade II took a number of years to actually get finalised, with some original plans for the sequel, including the addition of characters like Morbius and Hannibal King, as well as time travel, getting scrapped. Eventually, the concept of the reaper virus was decided upon, and the search for a director began. Thanks to his work on the horror film Mimic, the studio sought out director Guillermo del Toro, believing that he would be able to bring a unique look and feel to the movie.
After coming on board, del Toro changed little of the script, liking the direction that the film was taking, though he did play a part in pushing the design of the reapers in a certain direction, and playing up their animal, monstrous qualities. The eventual end design for the reapers would bear a striking resemblance to the vampires that del Toro would use in his novel series, and TV adaptation, The Strain. The villains for the movie were not played as tragic, romantic figures, these were instead vampiric monsters that were little more than animals; and this made for a big change at the time as this was the first depiction of vampires this way for years, and it certainly helped the film to stand out.
The movie also took the action of the first film and tried to push it. Blade II had more action scenes, and included more dynamic set pieces, including one scene where Blade and Nomak (Luke Goss), the patient zero for the reapers, fight on a scaffolding in the middle of a ruined church. Unfortunately, there were times where the drive to be bigger and better backfired, especially in terms of the CGI, which let the film down at times when fully CG character models were used for things that could have been done with wire-work instead. Luckily, the practical effects for the film were superb, and del Toro’s passion for practical effects where possible, and some great prosthetic work and creature design, leave the film being the best of the trilogy from a visual and design standpoint.
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Blade II took what the first film did, creating a grounded, believable comic book inspired world, and injected more of the fantastical into it. It moved away from depicting real world settings and took bolder design choices in the sets, costumes, and weaponry. In a lot of ways you can look at it as the first real example of how to blend the realistic and the spectacular in a comic book film, and it to be well received. The Batman movies tried to do the same, starting with the gritty and grounded films of Tim Burton, but failed to be as well received when they started to add the fantastical elements with Joel Schumacher’s contributions. Blade II managed to walk that line well, however, and whilst people will point to the Spider-Man and X-Men movies as the start of the modern comic book success, I believe that Blade II is by far a bigger contributor.
Blade II was released in the UK on 29th March 2002.