One of the challenges when you’re trying to follow up a kickass vampire superhero movie like Blade is to provide an experience that tops the first, breaks new ground, and stays familiar enough to get old fans interested again. This is a lot easier said than done, especially when studios often just try to make a clone of their original success that is a little harder, faster, better and stronger. Truth is, you generally can’t bottle lightning twice, which is why so many sequels fail, especially in action cinema. With Blade II, the answer was to enlist the talent of Guillermo del Toro, whose love for comic books, monsters and intense visuals made him the right guy to portray the continuing adventures of the world’s coolest vampire hunter but in a way that brings everybody into new territory.
Blade II picks up a little while after the end of the first movie, when Blade—a vampire who hunts other vampires and can withstand sunlight—saves Los Angeles by destroying the vampire cabal trying to take it over. Now he’s taking care of business in Europe and is contacted by vampire lord Eli Damaskinos, who needs Blade’s help to track down and kill a vampire named Jared Nomak. Nomak carries the Reaper virus, which mutates people into especially feral vampires and will very quickly create an extinction-level event for vampires and humans alike. Against his better judgment, Blade signs on and fights alongside a team of SpecOps vampires that had been training to kill Blade, but now must work with him on this Reaper thing. Chief among them is Damaskinos’ daughter, Nyssa, who was born a vampire and has no qualms over what she is. Blade can see that there is something noble and pure to her, and the chemistry between the two suggests that someday, when they have to kill each other, neither is going to be very happy about it.
The story involves the same amount of mayhem and carnage that made the original Blade so much fun, but under del Toro’s distinctive direction, Blade II somehow doesn’t quite feel like a true sequel to Blade. It feels like a different kind of movie, even though it’s got mostly the same characters and settings. And yet, it doesn’t feel like a reboot, either. Instead, it comes off like a Guillermo del Toro movie that just happens to be about Blade. We’ve got extended martial arts battles, vampire hordes in skeevy nightclubs, ultraviolet grenades and everything else we’d expect from a movie about a the vampire version of the Punisher. But we’ve also got some unexpected heel turns from the various characters working with and against our hero, a vision of a vampire society deeper and more nuanced than Blade would give it credit for, and the notion that maybe—just maybe—Blade might have the emotional needs of a regular human after all.
We especially see this in the budding relationship between Blade and Nyssa. As the body count ratchets up all around them, the two realize they have to trust each other if either one is going to make it out of this mess. And even though there are betrayals aplenty—these are vampires, after all—at the end of it all, Nyssa is terminally wounded, but the one person she wants to spend her final moments with is Blade. Having always been a child of the night, Nyssa has never known what it means to feel the warmth of the sun against her cold skin, and in an unexpected moment of compassion, Blade gives that to her.
He takes Nyssa to the rooftop and holds her close as they watch morning arrive. He doesn’t do it because it will kill her, or to stop the Reaper virus from spreading further, or for anything that makes sense within the context of his vampire-hunting career. He does it because he feels something for her, and because she asked. She smiles and thanks him as she is burned into glowing cinders, the closest thing to a beautiful departure any vampire is ever likely to receive…or deserve. When it is over, Blade is by himself on that rooftop, but he isn’t exactly alone any more.
It is—incredibly enough—a touching moment of truth in a movie otherwise dedicated to high-octane violence and monstrosity. It’s almost like del Toro couldn’t help himself…when nobody was looking, he slipped in a bit of character development for Blade and raised the notion that the axis of good and evil between human and vampire might not be as simple as we had been led to believe. There is room for change. There is room for second chances. And there is even room for—dare we say it?—love. That’s why his rooftop moment with Nyssa, the one time when he puts his endless war on pause, sticks out so much. Everybody needs somebody. Even a guy like Blade.