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The Buff Vampire Slayer

What promise to be a bumper couple of years for movies based on Marvel Comics kick off with Guillermo del Toro's Blade 2, based on the character created by Gene Colan and Marv Wolfman for Tomb of Dracula back in the 1970s (okay, comic geek posing over). Now I wasn't fantastically impressed by Stephen Norrington's 1998 original, which was let down by flat, unatmospheric lighting, giving it the look of an unusually violent big-budget TV series pilot, but this is a different kind of film entirely.

Blade 2 picks up the story two years on and finds half-human vampire hunter Blade (Wesley Snipes - does he play anyone other than Blade these days?) in Prague, in hot pursuit of the bloodsuckers holding his mentor Whistler (post-modern wild man Kris Kristofferson) captive - yes, I thought he died in the first movie too, proof (as if any were needed) that Marvel long ago put a revolving door on the afterlife. Blade is still routinely carrying enough hardware to open his own ironmongers and insists on wearing sunglasses even down a sewer in the middle of the night (he's kept his cheery disposition too).

Blade's reunion with Whistler is shortlived as the pair of them, along with Blade's teen sidekick Scud (Norman Reedus) are approached by vampire princess Nyssa (Leonor Varela) under a flag of truce. They're taken to see her father, master vampire Damaskinos (Tcheky Karyo, unrecognisable from his appearances in Goldeneye and Kiss of the Dragon), who reveals that a species of mutant vampire is on the loose. These creatures, known as reapers, prey on both humans and the undead, and the vampires want Blade's help in exterminating them. Realising the reapers will turn on humanity once vampirekind has been wiped out, Blade agrees to help, leading an elite group of vampire warriors known as the Blood Pack. But has he been told the whole story...?

Let's not beat about the bush: Blade 2 is an arse-kicker of a movie. The action sequences are the equal of those in The Matrix or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, filled with a furious energy and style. More traditional suspense thrillers like Aliens seem to have been an influence too, particularly in the sequence where the Blood Pack stalk (and are stalked by) reapers in the sewers of Prague. Snipes is a commanding presence at the heart of the movie - it's not the sort of thing the Academy tends to notice, consisting mainly of looking stern, grunting one-liners, running around and hitting people, but he's very good at it.

This isn't really a pure horror movie, but if your tastes run to the icky you'll be well served here. The bloodletting, gore and general gruesomeness reach operatic levels. Decapitations, characters getting sliced in half, autopsies, bifurcated mandibles, Blade 2 has them all in abundance (especially the bifurcated mandibles). Fun for all the family.

But, I'm glad to say, it has a bit of depth to it too. David (JSA) Goyer's script has a rich subplot concerning trust and loyalty - Blade is leading a team of assassins originally assembled to kill him. Should he really be collaborating with his sworn enemies? Doesn't he have more in common with his enemy's enemy, the reapers? And has Whistler's allegiance been altered by his time as a captive of the vampires? Is there anyone Blade can trust?

Del Toro brings a lot of style and atmosphere to the movie, mostly lit in rich oranges and browns and piercing blues and greys. The European setting harks back to the original vampire legends and allows for homages to some of the earlier classics of the genre. It also explains the eclectic cast the director has assembled - including (okay, he's American, but still) cult movie specialist Ron Perlman (Name of the Rose, Alien Resurrection, the Beauty and the Beast TV show and this Christmas' Star Trek: Nemesis), Danny John Jules (his first appearance provoked a loud whisper of 'Isn't that the Cat from Red Dwarf?' in the row behind me), and the bloke who played the gay handyman in This Life, all as Blood Pack members. A remarkable make-up job means you don't realise the leader of the reapers is Luke Goss from late-80s pop aberration Bros until the closing credits are rolling.

As a piece of high-octane horror, Blade 2 does all you could wish of it, managing to eclipse the first movie in the process. If you liked the original, this one will blow your mind - and if you didn't, well, there's always ET The Extra Terrestrial showing again on the screen next door. Roll on Blade 3.

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