A film review by Craig J. Koban January 14, 2017

UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS ˝j

2017, R, 91 mins.

 

Kate Beckinsale as Selene  /  Theo James as David  /  Lara Pulver as Semira  /  Tobias Menzies as Marius  /  Charles Dance as Thomas  /  Bradley James as Varga

Directed by Anna Foerster  /  Written by Cory Goodman

SCREENED IN
3D

UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS is the fifth film in the redundantly long standing vampires versus werewolves action horror series that unequivocally proves why a stake should have been driven straight into its heart several entries ago.  

I've been forcing myself - largely against all other forms of common sense - to find some kernel of interest in the exploits of legendary "death dealer" lycan slayer Selene (played again by a comatose and personality-free Kate Beckinsale), but UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS rarely makes a compelling case for its very existence.  It's ironically telling that Selene informs the audience early on - in an ominously monotone voiceover narration - that she's lived well beyond her time.  

So has this franchise. 

The film opens with multiple flashbacks to the previous films to recap what has transpired in them, which is typically not a ringing endorsement of said past films in terms of them being worthy and memorable entities that conjure up enthralling memories.  It appears that the vampire covens are on the verge of being wiped off of the face of the planet by the lycans (werewolves to the virginal UNDERWORLD audience members out there).  Everyone, though, on both sides are looking for the now in hiding Selene, whose daughter is the only pure blooded vampire/werewolf hybrid to have ever lived (she's also the product of Selene getting it on with a hunky lycan, played in previous films by Scott Speedman, who has exhibited great unimpeachable wisdom for knowing when to vacate this overstaying its welcome franchise).   

 

 

Now, part of the scripting inanity of UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS is how everyone refers to this child as a "purebred hybrid."  Now, anything that's pure bred implies unmixed origin, but since this daughter is the product of a union between vampire and werewolf that would, in turn, make her mixed raced and not a purebred and...and...never mind.  Straining one's mind while trying to find logic in an illogically scripted fiasco like this is...well...illogical. 

Anyhoo', it has become clear that both factions want this "purebred hybrid's" blood, which holds the key to building an army of more "purebred hybrid" soldiers.  Now, as to how utilizing this "purebred hybrid" blood would allow for such an end result the film never once cogently explains...other than to establish it as a fairly simplistic McGuffin for all to attain.  While Selene stays in the shadows in search for her "purebred hybrid" daughter, other death dealers and lycans conspire against each other and their own kind to nab it first.  One lycan leader, Marius (Tobias Menzies) hopes that the "purebred hybrid" blood will give him the upper hand versus his sworn enemies, whereas vampire leader Semira (Lara Pulver) hopes to achieve the same end game.  Always scheming, Semira convinces Selene to return to her vampire family and train a new generation of death dealers, but when it appears that Semira is a blood sucking (literally) double crosser, Selene is forced on the run with her protégé David (a deer in the headlights Theo James) to sort our her dangerous situation.   

Beckinsale, to her esteemed credit, is a luminously beautiful woman that sure looks good in ultra tight form-fitting attire and is the best looking entity in this perpetually ugly and murky film.  She has proven herself in the past - when given the right meaty role and director to work with - to be a talented actress, but the UNDERWORLD films (right from the very beginning) have done virtually nothing to take advantage of her obvious gifts as a performer.  With nearly 15 years devoted to this wasteful series, Beckinsale hasn't been so much playing a character as much as she's been pitifully reduced to becoming a sullen action figure that dispenses expository story particulars when not punching, kicking, slashing, and shooting her way through hordes of monsters.  Selene, as far as compelling action film series characters go, is bafflingly dull and commands very little of our rooting interest. 

The other characters that surround her are equally laughable on a level of flaccid development, including Theo James' granite jawed, but charisma black hole sidekick.  Action films are also only as good as their respective villains, but UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS doesn't even seem to be putting forth a modest effort in this regard.  Marius, for example, is so bland and flavorless that you have to pinch and remind yourself during the screening that he is, yup, the menacing baddie that should be feared.  Furthermore, in terms of the whole arc of the centuries old vampire versus lycan war, the battles and skirmishes presented in the film frequently resort to mind numblingly tedious gunplay.  Why do supernatural creatures with the vast reservoirs of powers at their disposal need machine guns and martial arts to thwart their enemies? 

Well, that probably has something to do with the fact that the visual effects and production design elements in UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS is hopelessly amateurish at times, especially when it comes to the lycans themselves, which look so plasticized and unconvincingly bulky in CG form that hand drawn animation would have been more realistic.  The film's overall visual look - which is so oppressively gloomy - is rendered borderline unwatchable at times in 3D, which dims and dilutes the already mercilessly dark cinematography.  UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS was directed by Anna Foerster, making her directorial debut after working in various capacities for Roland Emmerich on his past films.  She not only utterly fails at making scene after scene tolerable to look at with its lackluster three dimensional upgrade, but her handling of the action itself - the only thing that could have been a saving grace here - is also dead on arrival.  It's as mindlessly choreographed, hyperactively edited, and headache inducing as just about any other hatchet job piece of action cinema I've sat through before.  The lack of conceptual imagination in this film is mind blowing. 

The biggest sin that UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS commits is that it teases us all with a climax that potentially offers franchise finality (thank...Christ), only to pull a very quick 180 degree turn to not-so-subtly promise more future entries to come...and all on a cliffhanger, no less.  That, to be frank and honest, is cheating.   Watching this fifth UNDERWORLD offering made me feel like I actually endured the entirety of the vampire versus werewolf war over vast chasms of time...which was not the intended effect, I think.  At 91 minutes, this film is appreciatively short, but nevertheless remains an endurance test to sit through for the non-UNDERWORLD devotee.  I found it hard to care about anyone or anything in the previous UNDERWORLD films, which left BLOOD WARS coming off as all the more chronically fatiguing.  Some witless and unnecessary movie sequels coast by on pure autopilot, but in this one even the autopilot is jumping out of the airplane without a parachute to escape from what's to come next.    

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