IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 91 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
The remaining vampire covens are on the verge of being wiped out by the Lycans. Both species are searching for Selene: the Vampires seeking justice for the deaths of Viktor and Marcus, and the Lycans, led by Marius, intending to use her to locate Eve, whose blood holds the key to building an army of Vampire/Lycan hybrids. Selene is granted clemency so she can train the Eastern Coven’s neophyte Death Dealers, but is poisened by Varga, who slaughters the Death Dealers at the behest of his ambitious lover Semira, who begins draining Selene of her blood. Selene is rescued by friendly council member Thomas and protégé David, and has to go on the run again…
The Underworld franchise is a bit of a strange one really. The films all work reasonably well as entertainment, but not one of them really stands out and totally exploits the potential of its premise. I guess the surprisingly well plotted first movie is the best all round experience, though you could also say that films two and four are better because they deliver more of what we’ve all really come to see [or at least us males]: Kate Beckinsale kicking lots of Lycan [and sometimes Vampire and Human too] arse whilst looking damn hot in that outfit while she’s doing it despite refusing to have her character using sexuality to disarm/win over her opponents [which actully makes her sexier for me personally]. Film number four Underworld: Awakening seemed to disappoint many fans with its heavy reliance on action and its minimal plot, and much like its predecessor Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans it did seem to have been cut down for the maximum number of showings a day, though I have to admit I kind of enjoyed it on a fun level, partly because it went more to town on the gore which the previous movies rather held back on, though as with all of these films [though of course most definitely not restricted to them] the use of CGI for nearly everything is disappointing.
So on to Underworld: Blood Wars then, and this is a film that seems to have undergone a lot of changes as it begun life in 2014 as a reboot of the series, then as a sequel without Beckinsale entitled Underworld: Next Generation, and then as a more conventional follow-up with Beckinsale, though it was shot some time in 2015 and has either just sat there for what could be almost two years awaiting release or has been altered during that time. In fact Blood Wars is another entry that feels drastically cut down, the film sometimes having a tendency to jump forward from scene to scene, at times before a scene seems to have actually finished. But the apparently terrible reviews this film has got [so I’ve been told – I won’t read any until I’ve done my own review] aren’t entirely justified, nor come to think about it is the overall critical derision of the series which certainly has its pleasures and its positive aspects even if overall it’s a tad disappointing. Blood Wars is pretty much on the same level as its immediate predecessor in terms of the amount of action and bloodletting, but has a bit more plot to go along with it, though is a gaping plot hole towards the end where screenwriter Cory Goodman obviously forgot something he’d written near the beginning because something happens which totally contradicts it and renders the majority of the film superfluous in one scene [yes it’s that bad] ….though the film does feel like it’s been extensively reshot [though I haven’t read anything about this], so it may not be Goodman’s fault….or maybe I’m just feeling kind.
After a quick recap which uses footage from the first and fourth films but not I think from the second [the third was a prequel], we go straight into an action sequence as Selene, on the run as usual, is chased on a bike by Lycans in cars and other bikes. She actually seems to be in serious trouble but no, she’s okay and then David her pal from Awakening turns up to help her out. It’s rather convenient that Eve her daughter is out of the way and I wonder if it was because India Eisley didn’t want to/ was unable to reprise her role, but it’s the absence of Scott Speedman’s character Michael that is more felt. He wasn’t in the last one either and there seem to be varying explanations for this. He not being present is given an explanation in this episode, though I doubt that it’s an explanation many fans of the series would like. The character of David is obviously a kind of replacement but Theo Travis is extremely wooden in the role [which will come as no surprise to Divergent series watchers] though at least Goodman resists the obvious temptation of having Selene and David get it on.
Selene is asked to train some Death Dealers, but when the villainous Varga challenges her to a demonstration in front of all her students, Vargas stabs her with a poisoned knife, then kills all the witnesses and frames her for their deaths. I’m sure that there could have been a much simpler way for Varga and the even more evil Semira to achieve their goal, especially considering that the Lycans are threatening to make the Vampires extinct. They now have to train loads more vampires! So Selene goes on the run yet again [the plots of these films, while connected with each other, sure are samey], though she has Michael with her. For reasons which I must have missed [or maybe they just weren’t there] they head for a coven right underneath the northern lights where the Vampires are all blonde and a bit ethereal, almost coming across as refugee vampiric elves from Middle Earth. However, the Lycans are on their trail, and one of the vampires is having an affair with lycan leader Marius. Battles are forthcoming, plus that great big bloody plot gap I referred to earlier. By the end, some things are wrapped up nicely, but it’s also a kind of cliffhanger. From what I gather there will probably be another one, with original director Len Wiseman returning, though box office takings haven’t so far been too great with Blood Wars.
Awakening had Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein take over the direction from Wiseman, and Blood Wars is helmed by Anna Foerster [this is the second film out last Friday that’s directed by a woman, a sign that things do seem to be slowly but surely changing], though in both cases Wiseman’s style has been replicated so much that only the really keen eyed would probably notice the difference, as has the dark, blue-emphasising look common to the series that’s got a little tired now. I did observe that Foerster’s action direction is a little less frenetic in places, but some of the fight scenes, particularly a set-to on the ice with the combatants sliding all over the place, and a really well choreographed and blocked duel near the end, are amongst the franchise’s best, though my wishes for a battle between Selene and Semira were sadly not granted. Meanwhile eyes are gouged out, heads are crushed, bodies are split in two and even an appendix is ripped out in a bit which made the old gore hound in me smile, though it’s all in a relatively harmless context so the BBFC’s decision to give this instalment a ’15’ certificate rather than the usual ‘18’ was the right one. Of course it’s all CGI too, which rarely looks too good, while elsewhere, as per usual, the visual effects vary wildly in quality, and those werewolves, while improved from the awful looking things in the first movie, still don’t look too great. The total lack of humour common to this series is retained, and you could say everyone takes it all a bit too seriously, but I kind of admire the writers for not giving in to the temptation to play for laughs and to attempt a bit of gravitas.
James aside, the acting is all pretty good. Beckinsale, who’s barely changed since 2001, is given a little bit more to work with than usual and gives it her all, and as well as Selene we have two other great female characters in the super warrior Lena [Clementine Nicholson] and the evil Semira, the most blatantly sexual lady we’ve seen in the series, and played by Lara Pulver with considerable relish. As before, the majority of the cast members are British, and 70 year old Charles Dance even gets to have a little sword fight, though Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy are sorely missed doing their “probably only doing it for the paycheck but actually looking like they’re having lots of fun” acts [though it’s Derek Jacobi turning up in Evolution that I’ll never forget, I remember trying to work out if it was actually him or not]. In the end, Blood Wars doesn’t really do any more than deliver everything that you’d expect from an Underworld film, but still just about manages to that well enough so it doesn’t quite feel like a waste of time. But for the last film, let’s really ramp thing up and go a bit more ambitious, yes?