Kate Beckinsale dons her skin-tight, PVC, death dealers outfit once again in Underworld: Blood Wars, but after 4 middling movies in the series does anyone really still care?
Vampires vs. werewolves is a fun concept that the first Underworld film seemed to tap into at just the right time. With fashionable goth stylings, a seemingly deep mythology and some fun action set pieces, it appeared that Underworld was a good start to a new franchise. Unfortunately the subsequent films in the series seemed to lose their way as they delved into endless Vampire politicking and the ineffectual attacks of the Lycans, the series’ term for werewolves. While the movies made enough money to ensure sequels, they’ve never done well enough to break out into commercial or critical success, ending up “eclipsed” by the later, more grounded Twilight series.
Death Dealing Selene
For those unfamiliar with the series, Underworld chronicles the adventures of the death dealer Selene (Beckinsale). Dedicated to fighting Lycans (werewolves) she abandons everything she knows when she meets the Vampire/Lycan hybrid Michael. The two hit it off and have various adventures featuring gun battles, double crosses and ancient plots galore, as the two try to stay one step ahead of their enemies on both sides. 2012’s Underworld: Awakening left Selene, and her almost fully grown daughter Eve, searching for Michael in a world where humans had become aware of the two warring races and were trying to wipe both of them out.
Apart from the basic set up, most of the plot machinations from the previous films can be neatly cast aside as Underworld Blood Wars cherry picks what it wants from the mythology, either ignoring the rest or giving it only the most passing of mentions. It’s a pity that it chooses to focus on the most repeated and well worn elements of the series.
Underworld: Blood Wars begins with Selene still on the run from both Lycans and Vampires, humans having inexplicably disappeared from the picture altogether. She’s sent her daughter away, to make sure that she can’t be found by either vampires or Lycans, who want her blood make more super-hybrids.
Oh Look! More plotting goth vampires!
Yet again the Lycans are organising under a new leader and the Vampires are a little low on staff, Selene & the Lycans having massacred quite a few of them in the previous movies. The main remaining coven decides to offer amnesty to Selene, in return for her training and leading their young, ineffectual Death Dealers, however various Vampire elders turn out to have their own conflicting agendas. Selene still has to deal with new betrayals, the new Lycan leader Marius (Tobias Menzies) and tracing the history of David (Theo James from the previous film) who may be more than just a pretty face
While the original Underworld hinted at a deep mythology, by this stage the films have explored it to death. Various vampire elders are talked about in hushed tones, but while some character’s names, their relation to other characters, and their place in the mythology are repeated over and over again, others are left for the audience to figure out. The war with the humans, the centrepiece of the previous movie, is completely disregarded in favour of yet another story about an unusual Lycan whipping the typically disorganised Lycan mob into a formidable fighting force.
The whole thing leaves you with a vast feeling of wasted potential.
If there was more a sense of fun to the whole thing it might be bearable, but Beckinsale nails the role of weary ancient death dealer a little too well, and yet again is curiously sidelined in her own film. This time it’s a subplot with the forgettable David and his lineage that pushes her back into the shadows.
“It appears to be some kind of bullet”
Despite the self seriousness there are some fun moments to be had, even if unintentional. Charles Dance provides the expected twinkle as elder Vampire Thomas and Lara Pulver stands in a sea of models as another elder Semira. The single expletive used in the film is utilised hilariously and with such pin point accuracy you’d hope that it was intentional but the rest of the dialogue is littered with such clunkers that they can’t help but raise a laugh. Even this can’t push Blood Wars into “so-bad-it’s-good” territory.
It doesn’t help that the whole thing is shot at night with the contrast dialled down to foggy grey. Despite Len Wiseman’s sins (2012’s Total Recall anyone?) the action scenes from any of the first few Underworld films far exceeds anything that’s seen here. Making the jump from TV to the big screen director Anna Foerster shoots much of the action too close and as a result most of the fight scenes any impact. Effects are used inconsistently too, with visually interesting ideas like Vampires defying gravity and fighting while standing on walls and ceiling, used once or twice then disregarded. You’d think such a combat advantage, especially against bigger, stronger, hairier opponents, would be used quite a bit but no.
The film ends with yet another new status quo, one which may set up the rumoured Underworld TV series to be produced by Wiseman, however there’s been no news on that since January 2016.
However that turns out it’s definitely time to reboot or abandon the cinema franchise. At one point Selene says that “Times change, Vampires do not”. Neither it seems does Underworld and at this point it sorely needs to.
Like Selene herself the Underworld series may have lived too long. It’s time for it to meet it’s eternal rest.
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Lara Pulver, Charles Dance, Tobias Menzies, Bradley James, Daisy Head, James Faulkner.
Directed by: Anna Foerster
Official Site here.