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The Baltimore Sun

'Blade II'

Times Staff Writer

"Blade II" brings back Wesley Snipes in the title role as the Marvel Comics half-human, half-vampire who wears a long, flowing black coat and who has all the strengths of vampires but none of their weaknesses--save a craving for blood. However, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), who lost his own family to vampires, is a scientific genius who took in Blade when he was a kid living on the streets and developed a serum to keep his thirst for blood in check. Cultivating a father-son relationship over the years, Whistler and Blade have dedicated themselves to making war on vampires, who, they assure us, "are everywhere."

The first time out, they took on Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), a cocky young vampire intent on world rule. Now, in "Blade II," the current vampire overlord, Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann), has asked his sworn enemy, Blade, to join forces with him to combat the Reapers, a super race of vampires intent on destroying all vampires and then all humans. Silver bullets and garlic mean nothing to them. While it helps to have seen the original "Blade" for a full understanding of this so-called "Daywalker" (Snipes) and his character and the nature of his relationship with Whistler, "Blade II" is more enjoyable than the original. Bloodbath that it is, it is largely free of the extreme, lingering sadism that characterized the first film and threatened to overwhelm Snipes' iconic presence. Interestingly, Blade has matured in the four years since we first met him on the screen. He has accepted the ultimately inescapable duality of his nature and the isolation that goes with it: From the outset he accepts that the mutual attraction between him and Damaskinos' beautiful daughter Nyssa (Leonor Varela) cannot go anywhere.

With "Blade II," Guillermo del Toro takes over the directing chores from Stephen Norrington, and this is frankly a plus. Del Toro, the celebrated maker of "Cronos" and the recent "The Devil's Backbone," brings to the film's nonstop action a mastery of moods. This time, the film is set in Prague, and the ancient city and its buildings provide an invaluable portentous, shadowy atmosphere.

This is where Blade has relocated his elaborate laboratory, and he has acquired a new scientific sidekick, Scud (Norman Reedus), a brilliant but frequently obnoxious slacker dude who immediately clashes with Whistler, once Blade has rescued him from the clutches of the vampires who had ostensibly killed him at the end of the first film. In going after the Reapers, Blade and Whistler will have the services of the Bloodpack, a crack unit of vampires. Not surprisingly, relations between Blade and Bloodpack leader Reinhardt (Ron Perlman) are edgy at best.

Like the original, "Blade II" has superior production values and visual and special effects. Snipes and Kristofferson build on the resonance of their original portrayals. Snipes again combines a formidable physical presence with a depth of feeling and capacity for reflection unusual for an incarnation of a comic book hero. He's larger than life though never lacking a human dimension. Not surprisingly, the makers have left the doors open for yet another sequel.

MPAA rating: R, for strong pervasive violence, language, some drug use and sexual content. Times guidelines: not as grisly as the original but still fairly intense action.

'Blade II'

Wesley Snipes...Blade

Kris Kristofferson...Whistler

Ron Perlman...Reinhardt

Leonor Varela...Nyssa

A New Line Cinema presentation of an Amen Ra Films production in association with Imaginary Forces. Director Guillermo del Toro. Producers Peter Frankfurt, Wesley Snipes, Patrick Palmer. Executive producers Lynn Harris, Michael De Luca, David S. Goyer, Toby Emmerich, Stan Lee, Ari Avad. Screenplay by David S. Goyer; Blade character created for Marvel Comics by Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan. Cinematographer Gabriel Beristain. Editor Peter Amundson. Music Mario Beltrami. Visual effects supervisor Nicholas Brooks. Costumes Wendy Partridge. Production designer Carol Spier. Supervising art director Elinor Rose Galbraith. Senior set designer Michael Madden. Set decorator Peter P. Nicolakakos. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

In general release.

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