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MORIARTY Crosses Swords With BLADE 2!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

Guillermo Del Toro, you sick, sick man, how the hell did you ever sneak this one by New Line?

I've been interested in BLADE II since the initial announcement, but never in that rabid/need-all-the-info sort of way I get with certain projects. I thought the choice to hire Del Toro as director was a strong one, provided the studio gave him the room to assert his personality on the project. I thought the first draft script by David Goyer was promising, with genuinely creative monsters expanding the mythos with a certain inventive charm. And I like the first film. I never went crazy for it, but I love the opening, I thought Snipes posed better than any superhero actor ever, and I saw real potential in the franchise.

But potential, as any regular reader of this site knows, and delivery are two different things. The best scripts can go awry when the fates are wrong. As a result, I've tried to stay skeptical about this. I walked into the movie, arms figuratively folded, not about to cut it slack, especially after how much I enjoyed THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE. I didn't want to see something that was going to represent a step back for such an interesting director.

Thank God for the times it all goes right.

If John Carpenter's THE THING, a gaggle of HK action movies, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, the World Wrestling Federation, and ALIENS all took part in a giant evil gangbang with the original BLADE on the receiving end, then BLADE 2 would be the maniac offspring of that unholy coupling, and it means to hurt you. Mean, brutal, edited at a pace that suggests a serious methamphetamine problem, and full of inspired action and horror imagery, this movie comes to play, and anyone who walks away with anything less than an idiot's grin on his face should hand in his geek membership card at the door.

Wesley Snipes, as I mentioned, seems more comfortable in the skin of a superhero than almost any actor I've ever seen. He's either in motion in this movie, or he's in a perfect superhero pose, like a frame of a comic book. There are a few times when he seems like he's overselling the badass thing, he's just a wee bit too hung up on his sunglasses, and his quote from THE GODFATHER is the movie's lone groaner, a line we've heard too many times now for it to be effective in any way. Despite those minor quibbles, what Snipes has done here is iconic, assured, and deserves to earn him some better scripts than THE ART OF WAR or PASSENGER 57. This guy is the real deal, an action hero who looks like he will f'ing destroy you without thinking about it. The opening title sequence is great, a slick way of summing it all up and getting us back into the world of BLADE. And, yes, it's also where we learn about the fate of Abraham Whistler.

It's a clever and simple solution that Goyer and Del Toro came up with to the fate of Whistler, played with a great grumbling steeliness by Kris Kristofferson, who apparently shot himself in the last film. Instead of working too hard to rewrite history, they simply play off the fact that we heard something happen in that film, but we never saw it, and neither did Blade. The opening action sequence, a stunner that seems to never end, brings Whistler back into the film dressed only in silver disco pants, floating in a vat of blood, and quickly figures out a way to bring Whistler back to help in the war that is still ongoing. It's efficient, it's done largely with action rather than exposition, and by the end of it, we are absolutely sure what movie we're watching. It's bookended by an eerie, almost surrealistically violent opening in a blood bank and a wicked, incredibly choreographed fight between Blade and two mysterious ninjas that introduces us to the concept of the Bloodpack, a well-trained pack of vampires created to hunt and kill Blade.

What creates an uneasy truce between Blade and the vampire nation, headed by the loathesome and freaky Damaskinos (played at maximum creep by Thomas Kretschmann), is the appearance of a new strain of monster, something that feeds on both humans and vampires, something worth being truly afraid of. The Reapers. This is the film's great piece of invention, and a big part of what works about them is the particular haunted design that is given life by Del Toro's exceptional makeup and FX team. At first, there's nothing that makes them particularly distinct. They're descendents of NOSFERATU, venal, more like rats than humans. But during the exceptionally staged "House of Pain" sequence, the true nature of the menace is revealed, and the film kicks into a sort of fevered overdrive. From there to the end, the few moments the movie pauses to catch its breath are filled with a sort of quiet melancholy, something which surprised me. It's actually affecting, and a big part of that is the unforced, almost offhand way that Del Toro weaves the emotional subplots into the blood-spattered tapestry of carnage. It sneaks up on you. Leonor Varela plays Nyssa as a pretty blank, and she defuses some of the chemistry of her scenes with Snipes. Guillermo was smart, though; he took the shades off of Wesley. He let him smile a few times. He gave us a look at the man he might have been away from this world of death, and Snipes, an underrated actor thanks to the fact that there's far more entries like U.S. MARSHALLS than there are like THE WATERDANCE in his filmography, manages to take those quiet moments and fill them with an inner life.

One of the masterstrokes of the film is the casting. Ron Pearlman shows up playing the same basic archetype that he played in ALIEN RESURRECTION. It works better here, though. His first exchange with Snipes is laugh-out-loud funny, and he's a glorious prick from the second he shows up. The rest of the Bloodpack are visually arresting, cast more for how they look and move than anything else, but that's fine. Matt Schulze (Chupa), Daz Crawford (Lighthammer), Marit Kile (Verlaine), RED DWARF's Danny John-Jules (Asad), and IRON MONKEY's Donnie Yen (Snowman) are all memorable for at least one or two moments, something that rarely happens with these sorts of supporting casts. Del Toro doesn't waste a one of them, even if Yen vanishes too soon for fans of his Hong Kong work. His influence is felt on the film's fight sequences, even if we aren't actually seeing him onscreen, but Guillermo's done more than just rip off HK imagery he's seen before. He's also mixed in all of his other influences, all of the things that make him giggle in the dark when he watches horror and action movies or reads horror. He's dared to make a movie to please himself first, and the gamble pays off. Del Toro isn't some pretentious arthouse director slumming it here; the man lives and breathes this stuff, and he means it.

For the past two months or so, many of our chatters (particularly those from the UK) have been greatly amused at the idea of Luke Goss playing a bad guy in a film, since he was evidently part of a pop duo called Bros. I've never heard of them, and I don't really care what he did before this. If you walk in with baggage about him, that's your own fault. I can tell you that he doesn't look like a boy band singer as Nomak, the Typhoid Mary of the Reaper virus, ground zero for this possible end of the world. He's physically repulsive, but he's also impossible to look away from. Goss owns the role from the moment he shows up. That opening scene isn't as over the top as the blood-soaked rave in the original BLADE, but by the time he looks into the cameras of the blood bank security system and snarls "I hate vampires," he is a completely convincing monster, a credible threat around which to spin the story. I prefer him by leaps and bounds to Stephen Dorff as Deacon Frost in the first film.

There's one character in the film that was Jar Jar Binks annoying on the page, and I walked into the film deeply worried about Scud, played by Norman Reedus. I've got to single him out for praise, then, for taking that character and making him appealing all the way up to his dramatic final moment in the film. Reedus underplays like a champ, but he injects plenty of quiet quirk. Scud was written as the stereotypical smart mouthed young guy butting heads with the returned Whistler, always smoking dope and making jokes. And all of that is still there, except that Reedus makes you believe in the guy. He's not a stereotype or an easy joke; he's not Spicoli with an arc welder. Instead, there's a shadow over Scud that keeps him interesting. It's the little business, the way he physically interacts with Snipes and Kristofferson. The best thing I can say about his performance is that it makes me want to see more of him as an actor. Even competing with the charisma on display in this film, he left an impression, and that says something.

I could fill another ten paragraphs, easily, with the details of what I liked about the film or why I feel it's one of the strongest comic book-inspired films ever made. To my mind, this is THE CROW without the unfortunate baggage. It's better, even. When I can look back on a film afterwards and count at least ten places where there were audible explosions from the audience, big reactions that ripped through the whole crowd, that's a movie worth falling head over heels with. I pray that Sam Raimi and SPIDER-MAN have managed to create as strong a palette for their film, as distinctive a style. It doesn't have to be as dark as BLADE 2; hell, that would be all wrong if it were. All I want is something of equal integrity. When I see a powerful super being go up against unstoppable monsters armed with a sword and a shitload of weapons that justify the name Blade, then I want to see some red meat. I want to see body parts flying. I want mayhem and madness and moments where it feels like the world is about to end. I want fights no normal human could survive, and I want to be shocked and exhilarated by each new set piece. Prague is a perfect setting for this film, old world European decay and New World moral rot on the surface and miles of subterranean sewers below. BLADE 2 rises to the challenge of being better than the original and then keeps on going, working better than you would ever expect. If BLADE 2 were half as good as it is, it would still be better than 99% of what we as fans have been asked to swallow in this genre. It's a winner, and if there's any justice, fandom will embrace it with open arms.

I apologize to you guys for teasing you about certain columns I'm working on over the last couple of weeks. I never mean to delay in writing something up for you. I'm working on a RUMBLINGS right now featuring my PANIC ROOM review, a piece on KILL BILL and SOLARIS that I've been promising for a while now, a look at a new animated series that anyone still smarting from the loss of Chuck Jones will fall in love with, and a review of the script for the next Julia Roberts film, MONA LISA SMILE. However, it's my girlfriend's birthday this weekend (when I celebrate, I celebrate), and I am under some pressing work deadlines. Believe me... I want to finish as soon as possible and post this for you guys to read and react to. Be patient, and I'll try to make it worth the wait. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

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