The Underworld series has been a staple of January movie calendars since the likes of its second movie, 2006’s Underworld: Evolution. It’s also remained a long-running marquee franchise of Screen Gems, one of the subsidiary studios of Sony Pictures, specifically the one that seems to be wholly dedicated to producing undemanding B-movies. Now that we’re on the fifth movie in the series then, there’s a particular set of established expectations that come with any new Underworld offering at this point, namely that one should have very modest expectations.
That’s more important than ever in the wake of 2012’s particularly underwhelming Underworld: Awakening. The good news about 2017’s new installment however, Underworld: Blood Wars, is that it’s at least a small improvement over its predecessor. That’s faint praise though, considering that it’s still an Underworld movie, and if you never liked this franchise before, this sequel is definitely not going to change your mind.
Even if you are a fan of Underworld, or at least consider the franchise a reliable guilty pleasure to indulge in during some slower January months, Underworld: Blood Wars is much of the same sort of thing that these movies have already done in the past; More treacherous vampires, more Lycan assaults, more emphasis on blood as a macguffin or a power, and a whole lot of stylish action. If yet more of that sounds good to you, then you might as well check out Underworld: Blood Wars, which is wholly unremarkable even by Underworld standards, but offers decent entertainment for fans while it lasts.
Kate Beckinsale once again stars as ‘Death Dealer’ vampire, Selene, this time completely without her Lycan love interest, Michael, and completely without her daughter, Eve from the previous movie. She is however packing at least one ally introduced in Underworld: Awakening, that being Theo James’ David, the son of a vampire elder. Both of these characters remain straightforward action heroes with little personality, who largely exist to cut up Lycans. I suppose they’re at least good at that though, if that’s primarily what you’re coming for, especially since the established charm of Beckinsale and James from former Underworld movies still technically works here.
The strange thing about Underworld: Blood Wars regarding its protagonists though is, despite the fact that she is never even really seen in this movie at all, Eve remains a major plot element that all of the characters seem to be pursuing. Reason being is that her hybrid super-blood can make super-soldiers, or, something, so we still get a loose connection to Selene’s arc in Underworld: Awakening here, even though it’s odd that Eve entirely sits this movie out. Charles Dance also returns from Underworld: Awakening as vampire elder, Thomas, for what that’s worth, but in this case, Dance seems to be particularly in it for the easy paycheque, since Thomas really isn’t a big part of the story here.
As far as new characters go, we primarily have some new villains, including yet another treacherous vampire that betrays everyone, who I won’t spoil the identity of, since I still respect avoiding spoilers in my reviews proper, even in threadbare plots like the one in Underworld: Blood Wars. The Lycans have a more obvious antagonist leading them now in yet another werewolf lieutenant, this time in Tobias Menzies’ Marius. Marius is a Lycan who is smart and powerful, but doesn’t seem to have any other special traits, making him one of the more boring Underworld villains, sadly, but at least he’s as good as anyone in the action scenes.
If it seems like I can’t find a single thing that matters in the character arcs of Underworld: Blood Wars, it’s because I truly can’t. This movie has a weird habit of raising conflicts that are ultimately quickly swept under the rug, and it all feels like a mere excuse to prolong the franchise further. Sure, the action and style are still decent enough to merit the attention of fans, but disappointingly, surprisingly little is ultimately at stake in Underworld: Blood Wars. Even Selene is purely going through the motions in this sequel, with even Kate Beckinsale ultimately not mixing up her character at all, beyond one turn towards the end of the movie that purely exists to set up another sequel. There really is nothing else to say with this cast, but then again, you’re definitely not going to an Underworld movie for the character depth.
I’ve pretty much already summed up the entire stakes of Underworld: Blood Wars. Everyone is after Eve’s blood, despite Eve never being present, and it all just leads to an excuse for more hard-hitting action from Selene and friends. Despite the supposed world-altering stakes of Underworld: Awakening, Underworld: Blood Wars seems to ignore most of that movie’s story developments beyond the introductions of Eve and David, and the disappearance of Michael. Humans are conspicuously absent throughout this movie most notably, despite the fact that they’d become the greatest threat to both vampires and Lycans in Underworld: Awakening. All of the problems besieging both races now seem to have entirely disappeared in Underworld: Blood Wars to boot, with both sides still battling each other as if the war has never shifted.
Even by the standards of an Underworld movie, it feels like the plot of Underworld: Blood Wars really doesn’t matter. This feels like a pure bridging chapter in the ongoing Underworld saga, despite the initial promotion seeming to treat it like a climactic installment for Selene’s character in particular. If you followed the movie’s production, the reason for this might be apparent as well. Reports seems to suggest that Kate Beckinsale initially wanted to leave the Underworld franchise after Underworld: Awakening, so this movie was originally planned as a means of rebooting the Underworld movies, while staying in the same canon, with Theo James’ David as the new franchise lead. At some point however, Kate Beckinsale must have changed her mind about leaving the franchise, so this movie seems to have been hastily re-tooled to shoehorn her character back in, which is probably why Selene almost never leaves David’s side at any point in this movie, and why her character seemingly serves practically no purpose in the story beyond the action scenes.
This switch in planned direction is most evident during this movie’s ending, which is probably its biggest plotting issue in an otherwise simplistic storyline. Overall, the story in Underworld: Blood Wars is more focused and a bit better-executed than it was in Underworld: Awakening, which is a plus, even if also a low bar to clear, though it seems fairly obvious that the ending of this movie was gutted and sloppily altered before release. Rather than properly wrap anything up, Underworld: Blood Wars goes into a voiceover barely two minutes after the climax ends, and then the movie abruptly stops and goes to the credits. It’s a very unsatisfying conclusion with no sense of resolution, instead doing little more than demanding that audiences come back for the inevitable sixth movie that this franchise is bound to crank out sooner or later. In fairness though, if you’ve made it this far in the Underworld saga, you probably are in it for the long haul by this point.
The Underworld franchise has changed directors yet again with Underworld: Blood Wars, with this latest sequel being helmed by Anna Foerster. Foerster has exclusively worked in television before now, and is making her feature film directing debut with this movie. It sometimes shows as well, since Underworld: Blood Wars is mostly acceptably put together, but it does exhibit a few very strange directing quirks.
Foerster manages to helm some solid action sequences during the movie’s bigger and more ambitious set pieces, though she very much leans into the idea that this is a schlock franchise. To that end, she sometimes seems to actively direct the actors to ham up their performances. This is most evident during any scenes with the Lycans, who are especially over-the-top and ridiculous in this sequel, often being borderline caricatures of their former forces from prior movies, especially in a franchise that previously offered a prequel made to desperately try and dignify them. Even Beckinsale’s performance consists of a lot of grunting and huffing this time around, as if she’s always about to declare that she’s too old for this shit, Roger Murtaugh-style.
To her credit though, Foerster’s directing priorities do seem to be in the right place with Underworld: Blood Wars, even if she seems to be primarily in this for the paycheque as much as anyone else involved. The movie feels fairly well-presented, but also clearly going through the motions, as if Foerster is just flipping through an Underworld playbook, and making sure to check the boxes, while compensating for a slightly flat script by trying to make the characters extra hammy. The good news is, you’ll get a recognizable Underworld movie out of Foerster’s direction, though the bad news is that you’re not always getting a particularly interesting Underworld movie out of Foerster’s direction.
Michael Wandmacher composes the soundtrack to Underworld: Blood Wars, replacing former regular composer, Paul Haslinger. The changes in the soundtrack styling really isn’t that outwardly noticeable though. Truthfully, the music suite is running along much the same lines as the rest of this movie, namely that there’s nothing technically wrong with it by Underworld standards, but it’s also highly generic and forgettable. It’s the bare minimum of a moody, atmospheric Underworld score, and there really isn’t anything else to say.
The rest of the audio also feels a bit weirdly float-y in some places, if that makes sense. Some of the hits and slices and other such action beats have the proper impact, but then other sequences suffer from strangely muffled sound. The voices of the actors can always be made out pretty sharply, especially when they’re grunting at each other like wild animals, but the rest of the sound mixing and general audio design seems to be a bit uneven. That’s really too bad, since some of the earlier Underworld movies had pretty strong audio work overall.
As with the audio, the visual suite of Underworld: Blood Wars satisfies the exact minimum that you would imagine, and little else. The heavily blue and black-tinted cinematography is still all throughout the movie, and it still works in terms of perpetuating Underworld’s signature style. The rest of the effects in the movie are sadly uneven though. The Lycans still look pretty good, but there’s a lot of weird, sloppy editing in some of the action scenes, probably to mask effects that the studio didn’t put as much effort into. There’s enough style in Underworld: Blood Wars to avoid the feeling that the franchise is growing especially stale, though the next movie should probably step it up, since the visual effects barely make par for the series in a lot of places here.
The 3D presentation in the movie is also pretty disappointing, considering that Underworld: Awakening had a surprisingly decent 3D job, especially in IMAX 3D. Underworld: Blood Wars, by contrast, didn’t even get an IMAX 3D release this time, and is only available in standard digital 3D and 2D. In this case, the 3D adds very little to the experience as well. There’s a few atmospheric shots that add an enhanced sense of depth with the 3D cut, but most of the time, the 3D is sloppily-applied, and feels largely unnecessary, especially when the 3D glasses make an already dark-looking movie even darker. You don’t really lose anything by just watching Underworld: Blood Wars flat in 2D, especially when several of the action sequences feel as choppily-shot as they are.
Underworld: Blood Wars is a serviceable continuation of the long-running Underworld film franchise, but it’s also pretty evidently a phoned-in sequel in many places. It feels like the entire direction of the movie was abruptly shifted with the renewed involvement of Kate Beckinsale, and this leads to a fifth movie that feels very generic and by-the-numbers, even by the lesser standards of Underworld.
Like I said, if you’ve been an Underworld fan since the very first movie from 2003, you’re in it for the ride at this point, and you’ll still have a decent amount of fun with Underworld: Blood Wars. This is the chapter of the saga that you’re probably ultimately going to remember the least though, since so little happens of note in this movie, especially when it clearly re-treads several story turns from prior movies. If you like Underworld, you might as well check this out on the big screen and enjoy the latest romp with Selene and friends, but if you don’t already love this franchise, Underworld: Blood Wars can be safely skipped.
I suppose you could at least offer the faint praise that Underworld: Blood Wars is better than the previous Underworld: Awakening, since it actually focuses the story and no longer feels like an over-plotted mess. Of course, Underworld: Blood Wars often goes to the other extreme and makes a very by-the-book Underworld movie with few surprises though, so this franchise is still trailing the modest success of the first two Underworld movies especially. This leaves the latest offering as probably exactly what you would expect from a fifth Underworld movie, so for longtime fans, even considering some of this movie’s shortcomings, I doubt that Underworld: Blood Wars will ultimately disappoint them.
- Action scenes are still mostly enjoyable
- Atmosphere and visual design still works fairly well
- Tells a more focused story this time
- Story re-treads the former movies and offers few surprises
- Soundtrack and 3D presentation are sloppy
- Some choppy, unpolished direction and editing
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