A fan of Guillermo del Toro from the start, I watched the Mexican-born filmmaker go from the flawed but fascinating Cronos to the visually luscious but dumbed-down Hollywood product Mimic, and then back to even greater indie brilliance with The Devil's Backbone. Pondering the notion of a del Toro-directed sequel to the enjoyably idiotic Blade, I saw an emerging career pattern of risky imports bankrolled by big-budget studio junk. Luckily, I was full of it. Blade II is lark, but it's an inventive, risky, maximum-overdrive, base-urge-pleasing lark cobbled together on a rickety armature of Marvel-comics characters, intrinsically ridiculous vampire mythos, and del Toro's now undeniable filmmaking mastery.
After a brain-rattling opening sequence involving foxy Eurotrash nurses and attempted nonconsensual surgery at a blood bank, you get a terrific credit sequence that also serves as night school in basic Blade mythology. You (re)learn that Blade (cool, cool Wesley Snipes) was born to a vampire-bitten mother, so rendering him half-human, half-vamp; that members of the nefarious Vampire Nation (really) killed his mother; and that ever since a spirited old cur named Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) got him off the streets, he's been a serious pain in the neck for the undead, what with his knife-edged boomerangs, martial-arts chops, and superior leather threads.
But now, Vampire Nation, led by Nosferatu look-alike Damiskinos (Thomas Kretschmann), is asking Blade for help in its war against a new species of virus-created vampire superpeople called Reapers, who are aching to decimate the earth's vampire and human populations. The Reapers look like a George Romero take on The Lord of the Rings' orcs, sport face-splitting vagina-dentata mandibles, and are led by Nomak (Luke Goss), who's also referred to as "Patient Zero" (can't say why, because it would spoil a terrific plot twist). What follows involves a crack team of ninja vampire-hunters, scenes of graphic genetic engineering, an old-school vampire apocalypse, and manifest ways of turning the garrulous undead into so many exploding barbecue briquettes.
Snipes makes an appealingly vulnerable Blade, and cinematographer Gabriel Beristain and a crack production team animate del Toro's knack for deftly transmogrifying earthly locations (in this case, Prague) into anything but. Here, a great director is having a ridiculous amount of fun creating a sort of action/horror Moulin Rouge! Del Toro proves himself a cackling master of finely delineated speed-freak montage, a junior Orson Welles as imagined by Tim Burton's morbid twin and powered by Motörhead. Whether it's with an art-house vehicle or another big studio outing, I'll be grateful for whatever way he chooses to go next.