Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)

Selene is back – as hot and as deadly as ever. Those vampires that have survived the wars so far are in need of someone to train their forces. And since no-one has nearly as much expertise as Selene, she is offered sanctuary at a vampire coven, which she gladly accepts seeing as the werewolves are after her. But in a world at war, allegiances can shift…

 

I enjoyed the first Underworld film for what it was: entertaining popcorn cinema. The second film in the franchise was nothing more than an add-on chapter to the first – and as such neither here nor there. I did not watch the third film, as I did not see any point in a prequel. It was the fourth film, Underworld: Awakening, that troubled me. It was not really a good film: it was confusing at times, and had a lot of action but not much of a plot. More importantly, it changed the Underworld universe in such a manner that I was not sure that the franchise could continue on that basis. It has therefore been my opinion that Underworld: Blood Wars needs to be a reasonably fresh start in order to be able steer this franchise away from the brink. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see the film, and I believe that it succeeded on that front. Not a rousing success, mind you, but a success nonetheless – especially considering some of the troubles the writers needlessly got themselves into with the fourth film.

Not all of these problems are addressed in Blood Wars. For example, the film seems to ignore the fact that – according to the fourth film – humans are aware of the existence of vampires and werewolves and are waging a war against both. Blood Wars is riding roughshod over some continuity issues, but it does so in order to reboot (and revitalise) the franchise, cutting back some dead wood, if you like. With Blood Wars, the writers are casting a wider net than before, expanding the Underworld universe. They are even attempting to make this film accessible for audiences new to the franchise, by summarising a small number of things you should know about the story so far at the beginning of this film in one of Selene’s usual opening monologues. It is not very elegant, but avoids having painful and ill-fitting exposition later in the film.

 

While the filmmakers are clearly aiming at a new start, you could also say that a lot of things stay the same: plotwise, one might argue that this fifth film in the franchise is not that much different to the first. Still, as I said, I believe they managed to steady the ship with this film, and the franchise can move forward from here-on out. There are two things to worry about: firstly, the fact that the production budget in this franchise seems to keep rising from film to film, while the fan base will remain at a fixed level and is unlikely to grow; and secondly, the fact that the trailer for this film was confusing and, quite frankly, off-putting, which could hurt the box office.

 

The film has some beautifully shot landscape scenes, many of which, I assume, are CG (whole or in part). And the film has a fittingly martial score music. The costumes are the same as ever, but there is a new faction in this world with their own dress code – which I am sure will draw some criticism. Personally, I got used to it after a couple of minutes.

I also assume that some people will say there are not enough fight scenes; and that the fight scenes in this film are not on a big enough scale. Personally, I enjoyed Selene in close combat, although the filmmakers added some gore to these scenes for good measure. I also believe that her fight scenes are well-choreographed, but I am no expert on that matter.

Many of the larger fight scenes take place in narrow spaces. We have had that in this franchise before, but it seems to be more prominent here, and even a theme of the film. We often see Selene holed up in some presumably safe location, and that results in this kind of spatially limited fights. It is also something that is specifically mentioned in the film and people are being trained for at the coven. There is even a fight scene in a steel cage, which I believe is a response to the surge in popularity of MMA, UFC, and similar nonsense.

So I assume some people will not be happy with the fights overall, but for me that issue does not matter as I do not care that much for big fight scenes. I am perfectly happy just seeing Selene kick some ass.

 

I can say nothing bad about the acting. Bradley James’s performance in a supporting role seems a bit “off”, but his character is written inconsistently, so that may be the reason. In general, most problems I had with characters in this film stem from the script: Theo James’s character is a bit bland (as he was in the previous film), but in all fairness it has to be said that the writers do flesh that character out a bit over the course of this film. Talking of which: there are several vampire elders and council members that remain pale, because we learn little to nothing about them. But the Underworld franchise has always done this, for whatever reason. Much more severe is the problem that we learn nothing about the werewolf leader (Marius), his history, or his motivation. Again, this is a writing problem, as Tobias Menzies is doing a good job in that role.

So, when it comes to the acting as such, there is almost nothing to complain about. Kate Beckinsale does a good job, as always, although her character seems less active than usual, mostly reacting to things that are happening around her instead of taking the initiative herself. That does damp Beckinsales’s on-screen presence a bit, I feel.

I particularly enjoyed the performance by Lara Pulver, and Charles Dance is enjoyable as ever. Newcomer Clementine Nicholson gives a very decent performance; while special mention should go to Daisy Head (daughter of Anthony) for doing an outstanding job in her vampire role.

 

 

All-in-all a really enjoyable film. Lots of action and intrigue, and good acting in a well-shot film. Of course this film is not a great work of cinematic art, no Underworld film ever has been. But for what this franchise is, and for what this film had to do, I believe Blood Wars is a success – and fun to watch. Rating: roughly 7.5 out of 10.

 

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