Latest Underworld is Goofy Bloody Fun
If you’d have told me 2003’s Vampires vs. Lycans (i.e. werewolves) adventure Underworld would go on to spawn four sequels and gift star Kate Beckinsale an iconic action heroine in the form of the bloodthirsty Selene, I’d have thought you were insane. While I enjoyed the film, I’d never have imagined the series would continue as it has, the ongoing popularity mildly perplexing.
Not that I mind. I actually like these movies, especially the second one, 2006’s Underworld: Evolution, its unabashed absurd gruesomeness and pugnacious creativity as far as the action scenes were concerned particularly satisfying. Things took a slight step back with 2009’s Selene-less prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, but 2012’s Underworld: Awakening worked pretty well, Beckinsale once again back kicking human and werewolf butt even if her co-star and love interest from the first two films, Scott Speedman, was nowhere to be found. All-in-all, as silly as they might be I can watch any of these moonlit supernatural thrillers without reservation, and while I’d never claim any are excellent the fact I enjoy them for what they are is perfectly satisfactory in my book.
Building off the events of Awakening, Underworld: Blood Wars finds Selene on the run from vampires and lycans alike. The former look at her as a traitor, willing to kill the elders of her clan in order to protect her hybrid lover Michael (Speedman, still apparently declining to return to the franchise and only appearing here via flashbacks) as well as the spawn of their union, beloved daughter Eve. The latter want the blood of that now teenage girl, believing her mother, despite protestations to the contrary, know where Eve’s hiding and thus will do whatever it takes to get that information out of her head.
While their primary task is the hunting of Selene, the lycans, led by a new, strangely powerful leader named Marius (Tobias Menzies), have also done a remarkable job wiping out a number of the vampire strongholds. With that being the case, the elders of the remaining clans, thanks in large part to the urging of the trusted Thomas (Charles Dance), make the uneasy decision to rethink a number of their current positions. That includes their dealings with Selene, sending word to the former Death Dealer that they’d like her back at their eastern fortress, eager for her to train a new generation of fighters in this seemingly never-ending war against the lycans.
There’s a big double-cross, which shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise for those who have stuck with Underworld from the beginning. There’s also a gigantic reveal involving David (Theo James), Selene’s only apparent ally, Thomas’ son introduced in Awakening. Most importantly, there’s a glorious new female vampire played by “MI-5,” “True Blood” and “Da Vinci’s Demons” star Lara Pulver who is kind of terrific, the depth and breadth of her bloodcurdling duplicity befitting of a larger-than-life cartoon villainess this series has needed since the beginning. Finally, we even get to go full “Game of Thrones” and discover an entirely new vampire enclave of white-haired Nordic warriors with mystical powers, all of them ready to divulge ancient secrets involving both Selene and David.
What’s amazing is that somehow, someway director Anna Foerster, cinematographer on White House Down and Anonymous making her feature debut, and screenwriter Cory Goodman (The Last Witch Hunter, Priest) stuff all of this nonsense inside an efficient 91 minutes. And, like a rather solid second tier comic book, it works, the filmmakers delivering all this exposition in the blink of an eye while still managing to stage a trio of solid action set pieces I found happily satisfying. Unsurprisingly, Foerster has a keen eye, staging things in a way that allows the carnage to always be easy to follow no matter how convoluted things might become. She keeps the focus right where it needs to be, the director and her editor Peter Amundson (Pacific Rim) never overcutting things into an unintelligible mishmash, producing a consistent sense of adrenaline that’s admirably impressive.
It’s still Underworld, and it all continues to be as silly as ever. Things do play, as they did in Awakening, a little too much like episodic television, all of it often having the feel of a bigger budgeted CW television series that’s building up for the finale than it does a standalone motion picture. More, if fans are expecting a key character from the first two films to suddenly return if there is indeed a climactic installment they might want to check those expectation at the box office as it ain’t gonna happen based on the information callously delivered here.
Nonetheless, I got a kick out of Underworld: Blood Wars. It’s a step up from the last entry in a lot of major ways, Foerster showcasing solid directorial chops that helps give this fifth chapter an added infusion of energy and excitement I wasn’t anticipating. As ludicrous and as thin as all this might remain, I still find Underworld to be a fun series, one that Beckinsale anchors with more gravitas and enthusiasm than it perhaps deserves. If there is a final chapter, I’ll be there to see it opening night, happily paying for a ticket alongside other fans eager to see how Selene’s story comes to its end.
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)