Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wednesday Reboot: Blade II

I think that Blade II falls into the typical action movie but with vampires.  There is nothing about it that stands out.  It's true that the Blade trilogy is the only movie in the urban fantasy genre that I can think of that has a Black protagonist but there is nothing about Blade that particularly reads as a man of colour except the the colour of his skin.  All of the characters are decidedly straight and there is no attempt to move beyond the typical heterosexual male testosterone violent action theme.

I know that for some, just the fact that Blade is Black makes this movie progressive, but for me it's not enough.  In some ways he is exactly like Bonnie from The Vampire Diaries - a White man painted Black.  Though Whistler found him when he was a young man, that does explain the absolute absence of any cultural markers.  This, combined with the fact that the female protagonist changes from a dark skinned Black woman, to the Chilean Lenore Valera, who played Nyssa, tells me that the creators weren't heavily invested in making a real racial statement.  I am thankful that they didn't have a White female lead, but what does it say that with proof that the series was in fact bankable, that the writers, directors and producers, felt comfortable moving away from a Black woman?

I have never been one for action flicks.  They don't challenge the mind, or add anything new to discourse.  More hypermasculinity is not what the world needs, and when it comes to Black men, the fact that this is considered the natural state is problematic.  I will say that White male hypermasculinity is very normalized, while Black male hypermasculinity is often construed to be a threat and so twisting this to be a good quality in a Black male is new.   But rather than legitimizing any form of hypermasculinity, we should be attempting to eradicate it, rather than constructing it as honourable or noble as the writers of Blade II attempted to do. In terms of gender it is reductive and limiting.  It places Blade into a position where he must always be the hero and violently save not only the day but the female protagonist. For as strong of a character that Nyssa was, Blade still saved her life twice, thus reinforcing traditional gender roles.

It is further problematic that Whistler was brought back from the dead.  Sure, White people adopt Black kids, but in this case, Whistler becomes a paternalistic figure.  Having him die and stay dead, would have given Blade a sense of independence but in the end, Blade continues to be beholden to a White man, regardless of his skill set.  If that were not enough, Whistler ends up saving Blade's life asserting the idea that Black men are always beholden in some way to Black men. 

Though Blade did result in a trilogy, it is telling that since that time, no other Black  protagonist has appeared in the genre. It tells me that for all of the big box office that it created, the series did not do anything to change the status quo.  There continue to be Black side characters, such as Laurent in The Twilight juggernaut, but beyond that nothing has changed and I believe it is because Blade did not give us anything new or encourage deeper thought about what it is we consumed.  The producers stuck to a basic plot that allowed for a lot of fight scenes and things being blown up, but in no way challenged the reader to think about what a true African American vampire protagonist could really be and that is the failure of this movie.

In the last movie we saw Whistler the man who trained Blade to hunt and kill vampires, kill himself after being bitten. I suppose that the writer and director decided that Blade could not be made with Chris Christopersen  so they brought Whistler back and made Blade's first order of business to rescue him from the vampires. He finds Whistler on stasis in halfway house and bring him back to his lair where he locks him in a room saying, "If there is anything left of you in there Whistler, in the morning those blinds are going to open whether you're cured or not."  In the morning, Whistler is back to himself. Apparently he was tortured half to death and then left to heal in a vat of blood so that they could attack him again. Whistler then meets scud, the young man who has been helping Blade in his absence and the tension between them is immediate. Their little pissing contest is interrupted when to vampires invade the hideout.

The vampires claim to be representing the ruling party of the vampire nation and claim that they are there to offer a truce.  Assad and Nissa claim that there is something worse than Blade roaming the streets.  Nissa claims that she is disappointed in Blade because he agreed to go with them to a meeting so easily but then Scud shows her that he is carrying enough explosives to level a city block.  They take to a place where they claim the true power of the vampire nation resides.

Overlord Eli tells him that the vampire virus has not only evolved, it has found a carrier.  They show him a video of Jared who was born a vampire but feeds on humans and vampires.  Jared's vampire victims don't die, they simply create more of them.  Eli tells him that when Jared is finished with vampires, that they will turn on humans next.  He asks Blade to lead a group of vampires called the blood pack to hunt Jared down.  Even though he believes that they will fuck him the first chance that they get, he agrees to play along because he will be able to go deeper into the world than ever before.  Whistler believes that they are only scared because they are no longer top of the food chain, but Scud has deeper concerns. Scud feels that Whistler needs to be watched because no on goes cold turkey from the thirst in just one night.

When they meet the blood pack, Reinhardt immediately challenges Blade.  It seems that because they have trained two years to take him out that they deem him easy prey.  Blade then implants silver nitrate into the back of head.  He tells them that from this point forward that they are to work as a unit and take orders from him. They prepare to enter a vampire bar and Whistler is forced to stay outside because of his inability to pass as a vampire and he is not at all pleased.

Outside of the bar, Scud starts to hear weird noises and he realizes that the vampires are on the roof of his van.  When he calls out for Whistler he get no response because Whistler has abandoned his post. When he steps outside he sees four vampires and quickly has to rush in.  Inside the bar, Blade confronts Nomak who asks, "is the enemy of my enemy my friend?" As they go through the bar, they learn that the creatures are immune to silver and garlic.  The only thing that will stop them is UV rays and sunlight.

Back at the vampire lair, we learn that Lord Eli is manipulating behind the scenes to get to Blade.  It also turns out that Nissa is his daughter.  The vampires that Nomak turned require blood every few hours or they feed on themselves.  Blade believes that since Nomak is the carrier that it will all end with him. The only weapon that they have against these new breed of vampires is sunlight and so Blade informs the crew that they will be hunting at sunrise, and that he does not expect them to all make it back.

Nyssa pulls him aside to ask why he hates vampires so much and she tells him that he is no different between them, though he shoots serum into his blood. She says that she made peace with what she is a long time ago while he still has not. Scud and Whistler create some new UV bombs.  Whistler then pulls Blade aside to comment that he is getting to close to Nyssa but Blade answers, "keep you friends close and your enemies even closer."

When they go back into the tunnels, the vampires decide to attack Whistler saying that they lost a partner and therefore Blade deserves to lose one as well. Unfortunately for that vampire, the hybrids attack him from behind. When they enter an ambush, it is Blade who saves Nyssa. Nomak pulls Whistler aside and tells him that she has some info for him. In the meantime, Nyssa gets hurt but Blade saves her by feeding her his blood, but the rest of the crew comes and attacks Blade. As Whistler climbs out of the tunnels he is also attacked.

When Nyssa wakes, she is in the presence of her father.  She tells him that she shamed him and offers him back the ring she wears with the family crest.  She goes on to say that Blade saved her that he is brave and honourable.

In a room surrounded by armed guards, Whistle and Blade awake to find Scud.  Whistler takes the time to tell Blade that Nomak said that the new strain didn't evolve but was created, and that the vampires have been lying to him the whole time. Eli appears and shows him embryos that he created.  He says that Nomak was the first and was a failure but that there will be a new strain immune to sunlight and silver.  Whistler interrupts him to ask why Nomak had a ring with the family crest on it.  When Nyssa picks up the ring in short, Nomak responds, "I would have thought it was obvious at this point; I gave it to him - a gift from father to son."

As soon as Eli leaves Alex attacks Whistler and so Blade responds by attempting to detonate the bomb he attached to the back of his head. Scud starts to laugh and tells Blade that the bomb is a dud and only existed to make him feel like he was in control. Scud shows him a tattoo on his inner lip, proof that he is Alex's familiar.  Scud feels that the vampires are eventually going to take over and that he would rather be a pet than cattle.  Never one to be outsmarted Blade responds that he was well aware that Scud had been turned and then blows up the bomb that Scud thought was a dude, blowing him to bits and pieces.

The vampires then begin to attempt to harvest Blades blood and organs in the hope of finding the DNA that creates Daywalkers. What they don't know is that Nomak is on the roof of the building.  Alone with her father, Nyssa tells her father that she trusted him with her men and her will.  "You set us up and you sent me to die.  Our enemy saved my life twice and you have used us, your own children," Nyssa says. However, Eli tells her that those blood ties mean nothing to him against the chance to improve their race. On the table, Blade tells them that Nomak wants revenge on the people that created him and seconds later, Nomak invades the building. When Nomak makes his way to the private council chamber screaming father, Eli and Nyssa make their escape just evading him.

Blade is rescued by Whistler who breaks into a room where he was being watched by one human.  How is it that evil people are always stupid enough to give the hero such a break.  As they attempt to escape, Alex shoots at them and Blade falls into a pit of blood, thus giving him the energy to kill the vampires guards and defeat Alex. As Blade walks out of the room, Whistler destroys the machine holding all of the embryos.

In the basement Nyssa blocks Eli's escape giving Nomak the time to catch up with them. Eli tells Nomak that they will find a cure and that he can take his rightful place by his side. "You are after all a prince and we will conquer all together," he says. Nomak asks if he means what he says, why does his voice always tremble and then bites his neck causing him to bleed to death, as Nyssa throws the family ring at his corpse.  Nyssa offers her neck to Nomak saying, "let's finish this brother, let's complete the circle."  Nomak bites Nyssa but before he can kill her, he is interrupted by Blade. The two battle and Blade kills him by inserting a knife into his heart.

Blade then goes to Nyssa who tells him that she would like to die while she still has a brain.  She tells him that she wants to see the sun, and Blade takes her to the roof.  Blade holds Nyssa in his arms as she turns to ash.

In London the vampire that Blade a pass to at the beginning of the movie is preparing to watch a peep show.  When the curtains open Blade is waiting for him and says, "You didn't think I forgot about you did you"?  He then sends a sword directly through the vamps head and the screen fades to credits.

This movie was certainly not for me, though I recognize that for many it holds a certain form of appeal.  The problematic elements weren't overwhelming but I still want more from one of the few movies with a Black protagonist.  Though Blade II was released in 2002, the special effects still hold up today and so I would simply say if action movies are your thing, Blade II will probably be something that you enjoy.