Underworld: Blood Wars and all the images you see in this review are owned by Screen Gems
Directed by Anna Foerster
They managed to fit both an Underworld sequel and the final Resident Evil movie in the same month!? I mean sure, we’ve got a crappy horror movie and that Monster Trucks things as well, but way to step it up for January! Okay so NEITHER franchise is what you’d call paragons of cinematic exceptionalism, but they’re both fun in their own right and I remember the last Underworld movie being the best so far which this is a direct sequel to. Then again, the LAST direct sequel (Underworld Evolution) wasn’t a bright spot for the franchise, but maybe they’ve learned their lesson since then and can elevate this franchise to heights comparable to the MCU! Okay, MAYBE that’s a bit hyperbolic, but at least it’ll probably be better than the DCCU. Does this monster mash continue to kick ass and take names, or is this fifth entry the final stake through the heart that will finally kill this franchise? Let’s find out!!
When we last left our fearless hero Selene (Kate Beckinsale) she had stopped some sort of plot by werewolves to kill all the vampires. Standard stuff for this series, but the added twist was that Selene had a daughter… while she was in some sort of cryo-chamber or something. Well this one picks up some time later where Selene has sent off her daughter to someplace that even SHE doesn’t know where so that she can be protected if the werewolves or the vampires want to use her super blood. If you’ve been following these movies (or listen to the opening monologue that catches everyone up in this one), Selene and her one true love Michael (Sir Not Appearing In This Movie) are super special monsters; the latter because he’s half vampire half werewolf, and the former because… I honestly don’t recall. I THINK it had to do with Evolution, but whatever. The point is that Eve is the combination of a super vampire and a hybrid, so HER blood is AMAZING and everyone either wants a piece of Selene to get to her or they want her head on a stick because of all the super heroics she’s done previously, and this includes the vampires who are still salty about her cutting off half of Bill Nighy’s head that one time. That said, even though I don’t remember the exact reason WHY that happened, I assume it was justified because it was Bill Nighy. Alright, so that’s all the backstory leading into this movie, now what is the movie actually about? Selene is given a chance to earn forgiveness from the vampires if she comes back and works as some sort of trainer for their raw recruits in their army which is of the utmost concern considering this damn war between the werewolves and vampires is starting to turn against them and they are desperate for anything that will help them turn the tide; even if it’s from the one who cut off Bill Nighy’s head. The reason for this change of fortunes seems to be the werewolves’ new leader Marius (Tobias Menzies) who’s managed to corral them into an effective fighting force and also seems to be the primary one after Selene or Eve’s blood… for some reason. Like I said, she’s a SUPER vampire now, so I’m sure the werewolves can figure out a good use for it! Now with all that working against the vampires, including the fact that their basically down to two covens, you’d think they’d ACTUALLY work together, but unfortunately there are some bad apples there who are hoping to not only seize control of the coven, but frame Selene for awful crimes in the process. Could it be returning characters David and Thomas (Theo James and Charles Dance), newcomers to the series Semira and Varga (Lara Pulver and Bradley James) or someone else that I won’t even name!? What about those albino vampires that look like they’re stuck on top of a snowy mountain? Where do they fit into all this? The real question though is does ANY of this matter when you’ve got VAMPIRES SHOOTING MACHINE GUNS!?
Vampires and werewolves fighting each other, tight leather, over the top operatics, and Kate Beckinsale who is in the running for best cheese-tastic action heroine (we’ll get back to that once the new Resident Evil movie comes out) all in one place!? Hell yeah this shit is right up my alley! Now to be fair, I’ve never been a HUGE fan of the Underworld series as I only have vague recollections of the first two, skipped the third one entirely, and haven’t seen the fourth one since it came out, but these know exactly how to be the best kind of disposable and unashamedly corny action fare to the point that you’d think it was self-parody if not for the earnestness and clear sense of love with which these are clearly made. It’s so unashamed joyous in everything it does, that it becomes that much more disappointing that the script manages to be so clunky in places which are the films only real faults other than the OCCASIONALLY unpolished special effect or not quite perfectly edited action scene. Look, this isn’t gonna be everyone’s cup of tea, especially for those who haven’t enjoyed or even bothered with this series up to this point as this really doesn’t try to be more than the series has been since its inception over a decade ago. If you simply want to know if it succeeds in what it sets out to accomplish, the answer is a MOSTLY resounding yes. If you’re looking for much more than that, well you’re probably in the wrong theater to start with.
One of the things you might knock the movie for is how little it really advances the lore of the franchise, but there are a few interesting elements here worth pointing out. The one that stood out to me right away that I was hoping would be a much bigger part of the movie, is just how tired Selene is of all this crap she goes through on a daily freaking basis. The movie starts out with presumably the five thousandth hot headed werewolf death squad to think they have a shot at taking her down, and this exasperation with how little things have changed in her life time is a really fascinating topic that begged to be explored in greater detail. For crying out loud, the vampires and werewolves are STILL at each other’s throats; not only in terms of the lore (the war’s been going on for over a thousand years I think) but also in the fact that we’re on the fifth movie that has this single never ending element in the background constantly asserting its importance without any real growth or change. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t capitalize on this as much as it really should, but the movie is still focused primarily on Selene, so the war can just sort of fade into the background or be used as a plot device which is about as much as I’d want it to show up in these films if they aren’t gonna do something more interesting with it. The other new addition here would be the vampire coven up in the north which looks to be taking direct inspiration from Game of Thrones in terms of the setting and Frozen in that everyone looks like they’re cosplaying as Elsa. Like Selene’s weariness with the world that won’t leave her alone, I felt that this part of the story could have easily been expanded upon further (so can only one of them use the super speed, or is that a special skill they all learn?), but what they do put in there is interesting enough and they don’t dwell on the ins and outs of their society long enough for the thinness of their characterization to pose a real problem. I would DEFINITELY have preferred more time and attention on their way of life and why they choose to live so differently from the rest of the vampires (they still use swords and shield rather than guns), but at least the truncated version here means more time for the fight scenes with the werewolves.
Everything else that’s good about this movie is what’s been good all along. The fight scenes are incredibly stylish and aren’t too hard to follow, Kate Beckinsale is still carrying these films as the badass Selene, and as overwrought as the drama is in here, it’s still fun to watch as everyone treats this trashy material like it’s god damn Shakespeare. Now the movie is far from perfect, and not just in the generic “not every film can be everything” sort of way. As much as I like the action in here, it gets a bit too close to the CLOSE UPS! QUICK CUTS! SHAKY CAM! crap that we see in many modern action films, though I will give it credit that there’s much less shaky cam than you’d expect even if it does have its fair share of close ups and quick cuts. Also, the werewolves still look pretty bad in these; especially the partial transformations which go from laughably bad CG to uncomfortably bad CG. Tobias Menzies as Marius gets it the worst as some sort of weird werewolf that can keep his human face for some reason, and its off putting every time they show it.
The biggest problem though goes back to the script. Look, I barely remember anything from those other movies, but even I can tell that this needed at least one more writing pass; not just for the odd choices they make in regards to the continuity of the series, but issues within the self-contained plot of this film. I remember the BIG thing about the last movie was that the humans finally learned about vampires and werewolves and became a major element of the war as they ethnic cleansed the shit out of those two species. Here though? NONE of that is even mentioned as we go right back to a world where there are barely any humans at all. That’s not a BAD route to go for THIS particular story, but this is also so much a sequel to the last film (David is back with a big juicy role and Eve is mentioned constantly throughout this) that it’s hard to justify them going back on this one REALLY important point. More pertinent to this movie, the two primary villains here (Marius and the vampire trying to seize control of the coven who I still won’t tell you which one they are) have pretty lousy plans. Marius goes on and on about how the ONLY WAY to win this war is they capture Selene or her daughter because they have the super blood they need to win the war. What exactly they NEED that super blood for is not entire clear (I think Marius is blood doping or something), but the movie reinforces this one point over and over again; to take down the last major coven, they need her blood. Then he just decides to attack the coven anyway without the blood. WHAT!? If there’s ONE thing we knew about this story, it was the necessity of the werewolves getting her blood, and yet the movie just ignores that so we can get to the final fight scene. Similarly, the Machiavellian Vampire doesn’t seem to have much of a plan here as they’re fingers seem to be in every pot imaginable and hoping one of their damn schemes will work. It KINDA makes sense, at least more so than Marius’s unconvincing change of heart, because this character is shown to be overambitious and somewhat careless, but because of this they just end up feeling like an afterthought by the end of the movie.
This isn’t a movie that’s gonna win any Oscars, or even a People’s Choice Award, and normally I hate it whenever someone describes something in that way; especially because it’s usually followed by the classic “turn your brain off” justification which is the worst kind of exaltation of ignorance and Pablum over critical thought and quality filmmaking. That’s not how I would describe this movie at all. There’s definitely a lot of hard work that went into this, and that effort shows in the action scenes, the set designs, the costuming, and even the script which has some annoying plot holes, but definitely gives the audience what it’s looking for. If you’ve stuck with this series up until now, I absolutely recommend you go check this out at the theater. Everyone else though? Well, it’s not gonna convert anyone who was skeptical about this franchise already, but if you want just a fun vampire and werewolf fight fest… well I would still recommend Awakening over this, but this is absolutely worth watching AFTER you see that one!
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