Review: ‘Underworld: Blood Wars’ (the fan service sequel)

Why can’t we quit you, Underworld? Every time fans try to escape this franchise, filmmakers go and do something cool.

Selene (Kate Beckinsale) finds herself on the run once again from both Vampires and Lycans alike; the humans have wisely — and conveniently — given up. The Lycans have organized under a new leader, Marius (Tobias Menzies), managing to take down all but two known Vampire covens, but he needs the blood of the hybrid Eve — Selene’s daughter with missing hybrid Michael — to inoculate his packs against silver weapons. Newly minted Vampire council member Semira (Lara Pulver) says she wants Selene for her experience in training her new death dealers to better defend their coven, but she also seems too eager to remove the kill order still on Selene. Everyone’s favorite death dealer neither knows where Eve is nor has any desire to return to the backstabbing coven, but the Blood War isn’t done with her yet.

Since 2003, Len Wiseman’s Underworld series has been chugging along… for better or for worse. While the original film was derivative and felt borrowed, the franchise stepped up with a sequel and a prequel before Awakening in a new direction — one might even say the wrong direction. With a year-longer hiatus than most, Blood Wars teased with trailers promising more of what fans enjoyed about the franchise, even risking a transformation to heroine Selene. With one more chance to prove itself, has the series grown too long in the tooth?

Fans of the series get what was missing from Awakening as well as callbacks to Evolution, Rise of the Lycans, and the original Underworld itself; it’s as if someone’s been paying attention to all this nonsense! Now dubbed the Eastern Coven, the gothic House O’Vampires is back, but everyone’s on edge because the Lycans are not just more organized but closing in for the kill. The high-tech weapons have finally spilled over into high-tech training, plus we get multiple battle sequences instead of just one or two. Even with a fairly low budget, the film fills as much of the screen as it can and it barely pauses to breathe. It should be mentioned here that “Outlander” director Anna Foerster is someone with a background in special effects and an eye toward budgeting, so it’s no surprise that not only are there more women stepping up into important roles and combat sequences but the movie looks just as good as an Underworld film with reportedly twice the price tag this one came in at.

While Theo James returns as David, four years of Divergent movies have helped his acting appear less wooden. There can never be too much Charles Dance, and we’re lucky to have him for as much screen time as we do. The story cleverly reuses locations to the production budget’s advantage; if you see a detailed location in one scene, you can be sure a battle will eventually take place destroying that set a little later. Like all Underworld sequels, some plot threads drop randomly between films, in this case the war with humans from Awakening — how did any of the covens, especially in the unnamed and generic “metro city,” survive the human-initiated purge that left Selene hanging for twelve years? And if Selene can walk in the daylight, why does she insist on stalking around at night when the other critters are out? It’s also getting difficult to tell just what can and can’t kill these supernatural creatures. Too many bullets? Knife to the back of the head? Slitting a throat? The rules change too often and without consistency; can we get a stat sheet to see how many hit points these characters have left according to the player’s guide?

At this point, the franchise is for fans by fans of the series — otherwise, why bother? Selene still looks amazing in black rubber shooting from a motorcycle, Vampire and Lycan one-on-one combat is still fun, and the storyline keeps adding new locations, new powers, and new ideas. When Blood Wars ends, it’s clear we still have some threads that can be picked up… or perhaps it’s time to leave it all right here, our guilty-pleasure satisfied, and move on to something else.

Underworld: Blood Wars is rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexuality, and brooding over the city.

3 Skull Recommendation Out of Four

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