We’re up to the fifth instalment of the Underworld franchise. The fifth. Let’s hope it ends here. With Underworld: Blood Wars, we now have what is, somehow, the very worst chapter of the lot.
From the get-go, it’s clear that we’re going to be in for a film that barely has the energy to coast along on what has come before, uninterested in striving for something remotely new, or remotely interesting. Kate Beckinsale’s lifeless (in more ways than one) Selene gives us a bland rundown of what has come before, before she’s in another lazily crafted fight, setting up yet another pointless battle between Vampires and Lycans that oozes déjà vu.
It’s straightforward stuff: David (a returning Theo James) convinces Selene that she’s better off joining up with the Vampire faction that was previously after her neck in order to take on the Lycans, which have an angry leader in Marius (Tobias Menzies). A few “twists” and “turns” follow, and you’ll probably care about them as much as the film does, which is to say not at all.
Selene’s story has clearly run its course, and screenwriter Cory Goodman – continuing an unfortunate streak after Priest and The Last Witch Hunter – has penned as bland an outing as possible for it to continue. Motivation is blurry and almost non-existent, as Selene enters a battle and agrees to train vampires, David returns to help dad, Lara Pulver’s occasionally fun scenery-chewing Semira connives with a vague plan for more power, and we wonder what it was that made us agree to watch 90 minutes of amateur work unfold.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the faults begin. As mentioned, Goodman’s screenplay is certainly responsible for much of the film’s downfall, with laughable dialogue, scene after scene of poorly set-up beats, revelations delivered with a jaw-dropping lack of excitement or surprise, and characterisation as convincing as the film’s heavily photoshopped posters.
But then there’s the direction from first-time feature film helmer Anna Foerster, who makes an array of head-scratching decisions that bring down almost every element of the film. The dreary, dark blue, almost completely dark colour palette will make those eyelids extra heavy, trying as you will to squint past bad CGI as the battle to stay awake wages on. The action, the very basic element that could provide some sort of entertainment value, is handled feebly, straight-to-video stylings that give the impression that Blood Wars was dusted off its forgotten 2002 release shelf and slapped with distribution rights for a quick buck. The many Matrix-inspired visual effects, with awkward, grainy slo-mo shots that don’t look half as good as that 1999 picture, would have you cringing, but you’ll either be too bored or frustrated to afford that sort of rise in emotion.
Peter Amundson’s (Hellboy, Pacific Rim) editing also doesn’t fare well, with cuts and strange entry/exit points that feel as though you’ve either arrived at a scene too early or left at the most awkward point. The stop-start flow would be more detrimental for a film that had more on offer, but, somewhat amusingly, here it ends up providing some sort of strange rhythm to distract from the various eye-rolls.
Beckinsale takes her character’s cold, tough-as-nails aspect and interprets them as sleepy disinterest here. This might just be the dullest Selene has been thus far. Beckinsale looks to be done with the franchise; perhaps she read the screenplay, watched dailies, and checked out early. To be fair, it’s hard to put much behind that dialogue.
Okay, you get it, the list of negatives goes on and on… but I’ll share one more for good measure. The film’s trailers proudly give away a major plot development that really should have been kept under wraps. That’s right, even the marketing had that ‘to hell with it’ attitude.
It’s difficult to find anything to salvage with a tired excuse for a franchise extension like this. It’s a dreary actioner that ticks off what it assumes are the very basics, but fails at the bare minimum. No one’s approaching this expecting a game-changer, but to get some entertainment would be nice – no, the two occasions when this writer’s cinema erupted with unintentional laughs do not count. Oh, and perhaps the most irksome thing? The ending allows for yet another film.