When I say Underworld: Blood Wars sucks, it’s more than just a vampire pun — it’s a warning. I risked life and limb to see this film, braving hazardous, icy road conditions in the hopes that my valued readers will heed the admonition to stay far away from this fifth installment in a franchise that never should have garnered a sequel in the first place. The people responsible for the ad nauseam continuation of these films certainly must take vampirism seriously. They’ve been beating the same dead horse for so long the only rational explanation conceivable is that they think it comes to life at night and roams the countryside feeding on the blood of the living. Those with no preexisting attachment to the series will be massively disappointed, and even Underworld completists will be thoroughly underwhelmed. I’ll gladly take this one for the team if it convinces a few people to stay home. Just don’t let my efforts be in vein (last pun, I promise).
Before screening Blood Wars, I had to do some research to figure out just how many of these films I’ve seen, so indistinguishable they are in my mind. As it turns out, I’ve only missed a couple, but the film openly acknowledges that most people lost interest in its antecedents years ago by providing a recap of the pertinent plot points in the first five minutes. To say this bit of profoundly uninspired narrative construction is an indication of the apathy to come would be an understatement. But then, these films were never notable for meticulous scripting, and I’m probably voicing a minority opinion by opining the lack of a compelling story or well-developed characters.
Kate Beckinsale is back as Selene, a vampiric assassin in service to an undead aristocracy who look like they do all of their shopping at Hot Topic and the local BDSM supply store. The vampires are still at war with the Lycans, a group of werewolves consisting exclusively of bearded, long-haired men (my membership card must’ve gotten lost in the mail) who are now searching for the hybrid child conceived by Selene and one of their own in a prior installment. As far as MacGuffins go, this one is particularly pointless, setting the stage for political backbiting (okay, maybe one more pun) among a cast predominantly composed of character actors who have died on Game of Thrones. Why is Charles Dance in these movies? Why do the filmmakers insist on unceremoniously killing off the best performer in their cast before he’s allowed to contribute anything meaningful? And, if they’re dead set on going down this road in the first place, why isn’t Sean Bean here to die as well? Feel free to ponder these questions at length — they’re far more interesting than anything that happens on screen.
Poor Selene has been through so many Hero’s Journey arcs at this point she should probably quit killing werewolves and just narrate the audio book of Robert McKee’s Story (but at least we know this one’s important because she comes out of her resurrection with frosted tips). While the Underworld franchise certainly can’t be misconstrued as a high-water mark for the art of screenwriting, that was never the point. Its appeal has always been based on a flair for gory, stylized violence and CG set pieces. But Blood Wars disappoints on this front too, with fight choreography that somehow manages to be lazier than the scripting, and special effects that look like they’re stuck a dozen years in the past (where all this nonsense started — and should have stopped). At least the sets are kind of nice to look at, with Gothic castles and Nordic fortresses providing a modicum of visual interest. The problem is, you have to sit through the inane story to get there.
If I’ve gotten through an entire review with nothing to praise about a film beyond its sets, you know the situation is pretty dire. For all its faults, Blood Wars is not the worst film I’ve seen recently (that would be Office Christmas Party), but those in need of an action fix would be better served by checking out Assassin’s Creed or watching Rogue One again. In Blood Wars’ hastily tacked-on summational voice-over narration, Selene informs the audience that she no longer fears death — which doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment for a vampire. I can only hope the filmmakers share this sentiment and will finally let this property go gentle into that good night. Rated R for strong bloody violence and some sexuality.
Now Playing at Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, UA Beaucatcher, Epic of Hendersonville.