They Call Me The Daywalker: Blade II (2002)
When I think of Blade II, I don’t think of Guillermo Del Toro or Ron Perlman or Kris Kristofferson or Norman Reedus (!!!), and all the gooey mayhem which circulates around their talents - I think of Wesley Snipes emerging, in a triumphant, unassumingly badass pose, out of a fountain of blood, ready for battle. Even beyond the context of its pulp-trash trappings and the lucid design choices of the scene in mind, the image is remarkable, and it chills right down to the stream of your blood. While not even the climax of the famed sequel to 1998’s Blade, it stands out as a powerful, evocative portrait of black triumph and representation – a superhero risen out of rage and moral righteousness. It only helps that the scene continues with a smooth, crunchy beat-down of countless foes: helmets cracking in musical unison, wide camera set-ups, open blocking arrangements, and a pummeling needle-drop.
It is one cherry-blood-picked moment out of many in Del Toro’s fourth feature, making the jump back to Hollywood after recovering via the process of filming The Devil’s Backbone in Spain. And what a jump it is – a leap of slashing and dicing and punching and kicking. Blade II is a true “I’m back!” in action-sci-fi-horror film, and it’s gleefully preposterous. Akin to Del Toro’s ongoing filmography, it slams high and low influences of genre into one pastiche, mixing design details right out of a Mario Bava sci-fi or The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover with James Cameron and John Woo action-poetry elements. Its distinction, then, is found in never elevating its collage past its purpose, which was the case in misfires such as Hellboy II and his new Oscar front-runner The Shape of Water. Blade II seems birthed in the back rows of a midnight movie house, albeit one which was newly renovated to remove the squeaky seats and the perpetually sticky floors. Fully engaged in its world and the outlandish sincerity of the events unfolding, Del Toro runs wild, as he did in Pacific Rim and Pan’s Labyrinth, in a sandbox malleable to his concentrations of shifting myth and ornate silliness.
Blade II connects so well back to his obsessions because it becomes the very films he worshipped as a child; stories of monsters who learn to be human, and humans who never let go of the yearning to be a monster. Beyond its place-setting as a vampire tale, Blade II would make a great middle man between Horror of Dracula and Hard Boiled, allowing an understanding that genre encompasses so much and it flourishes when the influences are ignored, only tampered with. Del Toro is constantly questioned to explain his ‘canon’ of ideas, but like Tarantino or Bigelow or any other genre talent, why explain when it’s right there on the screen? This freedom, free from intention of artistic purity or accessibility, leaves room for Wesley Snipes throwing elbows into noses, and it’s beautiful. Many underrate Snipes’ mainstay in the superhero juggernaut, but to me, he’s in the ranks with Christopher Reeves, Kevin Conroy, and Tobey Maguire as a pinnacle of heroic embodiment. The presence of his build, growly voice, sleek sunglasses, and the tendency for sudden, swift movement culminates in a superhero imbued with physical/emotional athleticism: constantly, continuously in-touch with his inner-self, and what it means to the bodies around him.
His intuition and skill extends, of course, to Snipes’ positive representation as a black man, and not a superhero who happens to be black, as so many people uneasily, strangely want these days. There’s a cultural significance to Snipes’ stamp on history as Blade that I cannot attest to, but the key to the first two films and their complexities, both formal and racially, are hinged on Snipes. There’s great vigor in seeing a flawed, mysterious, humorous black superhero not depicted as transcendent, but someone comprised of attributes and reactions and feelings indebted to a black man. Snipes’ influence is found within the creation of Blade as a character, and not a comic-book symbol. Without Wesley Snipes, there would be no Blade, and certainly no Blade II (which would be a shame, because it’s fucking wonderful), but also no MCU or Ryan Coogler-led Black Panther solo-film. He paved the way with swords and piledrivers to the face.