Underworld: Blood Wars is a poorly-constructed slog of a sequel that fails to engage the audience in any impactful manner.
Following her killing of vampire Elders, famed Death Dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) has become a fugitive hunted by both factions of a grueling war that rages on. The vampires are seeking revenge for Selene's crimes, while the Lycans - now more organized under new leader Marius (Tobias Menzies) - are seeking Selene's daughter Eve, whose blood is the key to creating an army of vampire/Lycan hybrids that could end the conflict. After Selene's ally David (Theo James) rescues her from a Lycan attack, the two receive word from David's father, Thomas (Charles Dance). At the request of vampire Semira (Lara Pulver), Selene is to be granted clemency and return to the Eastern Coven, where she will train a new army of Death Dealers.
The vampires have become increasingly wary of their Lycan enemies, who are stronger than ever with Marius' guidance. Desperate for any edge in the seemingly endless war, the Lycan ruler will stop at nothing to find Eve and gain his coveted advantage. It's up to Selene, David, and their fellow vampires to find a way to end the fighting and keep those they love safe.
The fifth installment of the Underworld franchise, Underworld: Blood Wars looks to continue the series' trademark combination of stylized action with interesting lore. Helmed by first-time feature film director Anna Foerster, the hope was that perhaps this entry could mark the next step forward not just for the Underworld property, but the action genre as a whole. Unfortunately, that is far from the case. Underworld: Blood Wars is a poorly-constructed slog of a sequel that fails to engage the audience in any impactful manner.
Blood Wars truly struggles on a technical level. The action sequences are the latest to be plagued by choppy editing and close-ups, making it difficult to keep track of what is happening on-screen. Instead of immersing audiences in the set pieces, this approach fabricates a sense of excitement with quick cuts and is designed primarily to hide poor stunt work. This is not helped at all by the cinematography from Karl Walter Lindenlaub, which casts just about every scene in the same low levels of light. As a result, the film is largely shrouded in darkness, which makes the 3D almost impossible to recommend. Granted, this production design is in line with the previous movies, but some viewers will have trouble following the events.
These aspects would be easier to overlook if Underworld 5 brought any intriguing substance to the table, but it fails in that regard as well. The script by Cory Goodman is exposition-heavy and does not have much to it in terms of story, relying mainly on "surprise" twists that land with a thud. Goodman and Foerster also struggle to find the right pacing for Blood Wars. The main narrative is so sloppy and messy that there's no real build-up to the final showdown, and the third act in particular comes across as rushed. The conclusion is arguably anti-climactic and does not feel as monumental as it should. There are some attempts to expand the universe through world-building (see: the inclusion of the Nordic Coven), but they don't amount to much and add little of value.
Blood Wars also lacks any noteworthy performances - even by this franchise's standards. All the actors come across as bland and uninteresting, failing to connect with the audience and giving viewers a reason to buy in. If there's a bright spot to the cast, Beckinsale shows once again why she's ideal as Selene and gets some cool action heroine moments towards the end Still, this is still far from her greatest moment and it feels like she's going through the motions. James is likewise a pretty blank slate, preventing his arc from having any sort of emotional resonance. As for the supporting players, Menzies does all he can with the material as Marius, but viewers will be hard-pressed to see what sets him apart from the other Lycans. The character is billed as an integral part for the changing tides in the war, though he does little to earn that reputation of powerful leader. Pulver tries to have some fun with the role of Semira, but she too can only do so much with what is a very thin part.
There's no denying that the potential was there for Blood Wars to thrive as essentially a B-movie with cheap, superficial thrills, but Foerster can't get it to that level. The movie is too dreary and self-serious to be considered a "fun" genre outing, with moments of unintentional comedy sprinkled throughout - such as actors doing their vampire and Lycan roars at each other before battle. Tonally, Blood Wars is just a tedious drag that feels longer than its 90-minute runtime and plays as boring drama rather than pulpy action fare.
In the end, Underworld: Blood Wars is unlikely to move the needle in the positive direction for this series. It is simply just more of the same and doesn't really have anything new to say, which will be disappointing for longtime fans and newcomers alike. Those who have been with the franchise since the beginning and enjoy seeing Beckinsale as Selene would probably be able to get something out of it, but the uninitiated (or viewers who gave up on Underworld long ago) won't be missing anything by skipping this round. For the morbidly curious, it's probably best to wait for Blood Wars to hit home media.
Underworld: Blood Wars is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 91 minutes and is rated R for strong bloody violence, and some sexuality.
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- Underworld: Blood Wars (2017) release date: Jan 06, 2017