At least it’s a better vampire/werewolf feud/love story than… you know. Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Lara Pulver and Charles Dance star in Underworld: Blood Wars.
Cast of Characters:
Selene – Kate Beckinsale
David – Theo James
Semira – Lara Pulver
Cassius – James Faulkner
Marius – Tobias Menzies
Varga – Bradley James
Vidar – Peter Andersson
Thomas – Charles Dance
Director – Anna Foerster
Screenplay – Cory Goodman
Based on characters created by Kevin Grevioux, Len Wiseman & Danny McBride
Producer – Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Len Wiseman, Richard Wright & David Kern
Rated R for strong bloody violence, and some sexuality
Following the events of Underworld: Awakening, the remaining vampire covens are on the brink of extermination by the Lycans, and both species have been searching high and low for Selene (Kate Beckinsale). The vampires seek justice for the deaths of their past leaders, and the Lycans, led by Marius (Tobias Menzies), need to use her to locate her daughter Eve, whose blood holds the key to building a super army of vampire-werewolf hybrids.
Is any of this making sense to you so far?
Semira (Lara Pulver), a council member of the Eastern Coven, asks for Selene to be granted clemency so that the former Death Dealer turned fugitive can train a new batch of vampire warriors just dying to kick some werewolf ass. Despite Semira’s hatred of Selene for what the latter has done in the past, she knows Selene’s skills as a Death Dealer would be highly valuable in fending off the Lycans, and asks for vampire elder Thomas (Charles Dance) to plead Selene’s case to the council.
After much vampire hierarchy “Rabble rabble rabble!!”, the council ultimately grants Selene clemency and she is brought in by Thomas’s son David (Theo James). However, such newfound trust remains on shaky ground, leaving Selene no choice but to be wary in reuniting with her own kind.
Blood Wars is the fifth installment in the Underworld franchise, following two other sequels (Evolution and Awakening) and a prequel (Rise of the Lycans) to the original 2003 film. Now, some might find it hard to believe, but I actually enjoyed the first Underworld very much; however, despite an intriguing mythology that could’ve made for a solid franchise, it’s been a vastly different story since the first film, as diminishing returns have proven to be not so kind to the series.
Five movies in, Blood Wars is by no means the breath of fresh air the series was looking for, and is more of the same dull, over-plotted nonsense that has plagued the series for a decade.
As Selene herself puts it, “My time is done.”
That’s either her admitting her part in the Vampire-Lycan War is now over… or it might be a little hint for the filmmakers.
Of course, Blood Wars does benefit from the expected stylistic flourishes that have adorned the series from the start. The picture is suitably cold and dark, which fits the tone of the film fine, and both Ondrej Nekvasil’s production design and Bryce Tibbey’s art direction continue the franchise’s unique blend of Gothic and futuristic imagery. If there’s one constant that the Underworld series could boast of, it’s that it at least looks cool.
The film’s primary problem, however, is its director, Anna Foerster. Foerster’s background is in television, and while the Russo brothers managed to transition quite well from Community to the last two Captain America films, the former director of Criminal Minds and Starz’s Outlander doesn’t fair anywhere near as well. For a film that tries its damnedest to broaden the franchise’s mythology (we’ll get to Cory Goodman’s script in a minute), Foerster keeps the scope of the film rather small, and the film suffers immensely because of it, particularly during the action sequences, which could’ve been the film’s saving grace if done right. Save a few all too brief moments of inspired action, such as a climactic duel between Theo James’s David and Lara Pulver’s Semira, the action is mostly stiff and framed in tight, claustrophobic shots that suck all the excitement out of the scenes.
Another problem with the action is that – well, there really isn’t that much. Maybe that’s why the studio felt comfortable enough to go with Foerster instead of more action experienced filmmaker. If the action is poorly stage, who cares since there won’t be much of it anyway? Instead of delivering what fans would hope to see, Cory Goodman’s script is cluttered with so much exposition your head will explode. Or you’ll just fall asleep, one or the other. If at any point in the movie you feel a little lost, don’t worry ’cause Goodman’s gonna have one of his characters explain the hell out of what’s going on at the moment. In fact, Goodman goes as far as kicking the film off with a recap of Selene’s entire journey, as if he figured everyone that would be even remotely interested in seeing this must not have seen the other four films. Even when he tries to liven things up with something new by introducing the Nordic Coven, the small, contained scope set by Foerster stifles any world-building opportunities Goodman may have had in mind.
I’m all for a storyteller’s movie, one that aims to excite you through its narrative and not through an orgy of mindless, bloody action, but you know the writing offers very little of value when about halfway through you’re like, “Can I just see a vampire rip out a Lycan’s spine already?”
Worst of all, there is so much at stake going on within the story – the vampire clans risk extinction, Selene’s missing daughter is being hunted down for the sake of creating “super Lycans” which in turn will undoubtedly seal the vampires’ fate, and Selene herself must remain cautious amongst her fellow vampires that may or may not betray her – yet there’s a dire lack of urgency that makes all these story threads feel so leaden. Between Kate Beckinsale coasting on autopilot throughout this film and a terribly bland primary antagonist in Lycan leader Marius – both in character and Tobias Menzies lifeless performance – it’s as if not a single character has a damn care in the world about what’s going on around them.
So then I must ask… why should we?
Out of the entire cast, the only two that show any signs of life are Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) and Lara Pulver (Da Vinci’s Demons). Not that the film merited it, but Dance does lend some gravitas to his role and is able to deliver even the dumbest lines in this film with a good deal of aristocratic panache. Pulver, aka British Jodie Foster (minus all the shhhhlurring), is clearly relishing the opportunity to play a conniving little bitch of a vampire and brings much sass and sensuality to Semira. She makes for a far more entertaining villain than Menzies’s neutered dog. Too bad the film surrounding her isn’t worth relishing in, but then again, someone has to look alive here.
Like its four predecessors before it, Underworld: Blood Wars serves up some more stylized bloodshed that will appease diehard fans of the series, but like many other franchise that have long worn out their welcome by the fifth installment, offers very little of value to anyone not already in the choir, and even those the film is preaching to may find themselves getting a bit wore out over this entry’s loads of tiresome exposition and lack of action. Of course, the filmmakers just had to set things up for a sequel, but if they had any compassion, they’d make this the final nail in the coffin.
I give Underworld: Blood Wars a D (★).
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