Nobody wanted to see Underworld: Blood Wars with me. I was forced to see it all by myself. (Will this be my fate again when Resident Evil: The Final Chapter rolls into theaters at month’s end?) Apparently every civilized nation got to see it last year, so we’ll cut right to the SPOILERS.
The Underworld movies have never been masterpieces, but they do enough to please me. Legitimutant vampire Kate Beckinsale starring as Selene is one of them. She proves women can be stoic hypercompetent ass-kickers grumpy over their missing loved ones & being betrayed by her former allies just as well as men. Unfortunately that archetype is already played out, even if it’s slightly more novel for this gender. Even with vampire David getting his own subplot, it’s still incontrovertibly her movie.
Lara Pulver’s Semira is the most engaging character by far. (You may remember her as Irene Adler from Sherlock, wherein the big twist is that Sherlock Holmes is actually a lousy detective but a wonderful psychic!) She’s so cunning & fed up with the stodgy vampire patriarchy that I was rooting for her schemes to succeed. She makes a former King Arthur to go down on her like a boss! She has Selene strapped into a blood-milking bondage machine like a boss! She murders vampire Tywin Lannister (is this the same character from Dracula Untold?) like a boss! She drinks Selene’s blood from the biggest crystal crunk chalice like a boss! Then she throws it on the ground!
When I first heard about Underworld, it was described as Romeo & Juliet with vampires & werewolves. That’s unfortunately not true of the main plot as Michael is an ignorant human that gets transformed into a vampire-werewolf hybrid. It does apply to the subplot of Lucian’s & Sonja’s romance, which got more attention in the Rise of the Lycans prequel. There is a callback to this with Alexia (played by Anthony Stewart Head’s daughter) betraying the vampires to her lover, Marius the lycan leader. This relationship should’ve gotten much more focus. Where’s the moderate lycan-vampire coalition when you really need it?
Eastern fascist vamps get introduced to northern recluse vamps that gain Targaryean hair & the power to teleport after doing underwater mummy meditation. So that’s why Selene gets Rogue hair & the ability to leave her coat behind. At least Marius & Semira seemed formidable before Selene leveled up again. It’s almost mist transmutation, so hopefully Selene will check off the rest of the Dracula power upgrades next movie. She should at least get Marcus’s bat wings.
At the end of the movie, the vampire hierarchy is upheld with David as its new leader & Selene as a pardoned elder. This would be a more satisfying ending if the vampires weren’t still so damn unsympathetic. Not only are they unapologetic about having owned lycan slaves, they maintain a rigid caste system based on purity of bloodlines. David is only allowed to become top vamp because they retconned in that he’s the secret pureblood spawn of an elder, not because his noble qualities made him worthy. Presumably the only reason the elders (who unfortunately weren’t slaughtered by Marius or Semira) gave Selene a seat on the coven council is because they realized she gained über-vampire blood in the second movie (which might be my favorite installment).
Granted the lycans have done their share of atrocities, but they’ve demonstrated they’re more adaptable, less backstabby, & less elitist. They even used to have a black lycan with a name & dialogue! They might be more sexist, however, as there are barely any lady lycans. (Conventional western beauty standards are only against women tearing out jugulars if they’re hairy.) This time an unnamed lady lycanthrope finally gets a line! The franchise still seems biased against them as lycans don’t get to be deuteragonists or have power upgrades aside from getting bigger.
There’s a weird buzzkill bit were Selene says lycans are at their weakest in werewolf form because they can’t hold weapons or think rationally. Regardless of it being budget friendlier, seeing vampires & werewolves that look exactly like people shoot each other is not what I want out of monster brawls. It is kind of worth for the scene where the lycans blast out the blackout shutter of the vamp’s coven stronghold to see the smug draculords combust. The sword fights are naturally better than the gun fights. David popping out of the water to slice a werewolf in half longitudinally was wonderful. Selene does a Mortal Kombat fatality. It’s refreshing she only fights guys whereas David & his dad fight Semira.
There are no humans in this movie. (It’s unclear how long the time jump from the previous movie is, & Detective Sebastian’s fate is unresolved.) I actually don’t mind since there’s already plenty of movies concentrated on humans. (I wish the exponentially worse Transformers films had learned this lesson.) Humans are food not characters! This movie is not for you, filthy human lovers!
Like the previous entries in the series, this ends on a note that will only feel like a real conclusion if they stop making more of them. We finally find out what happened to Michael the hybrid’s unconvincing stand-in because they gave the character the courtesy of an onscreen death without getting Scott Speedman back. It’s completely perfunctory! Selene is reunited with her hybrid daughter, Eve, right before the credits roll. There is still no progress in the vampire-lycanthrope war of attrition. So there’s still enough things they could play with in another installment, but at least Selene gets closure if they don’t. Marius & Semira (but not her faithless boytoy?) get slain, so they’ll need brand antagonists. If they do make Underworld 6, it had better be about Eve leading the mongrel hybrids to wipe out the vamps & lycans once & for all … IN SPAAAACE!!!!
So does Underworld: Blood Wars underwhelm? It depends on your perspective. If you expect another Underworld sequel & all that entails (WHY MUST EVERYTHING BE SO DARK & MONOCHROME?), Anna Foerster’s feature film debut (she’s previously directed some Outlander) passes with flying colors. If you expect the franchise to finally maximize its potential, it flunks. This movie delivers all the trailer advertised, period. I do wish it exceeded my expectations, but I also think judging it against non-B-movies is unfair. If you liked the other films in the series, you’ll like this too. If you didn’t, even reading this is not a productive use of your time. It did just enough to entertain me for its run-time, but I would advise against paying more than matinee price.
Last week I asked how best I could pander to you. The replies I’ve gotten thus far from a variety of sources have been: listicles, more book reviews, more esoteric hodgepodges, go sky diving with sharks, & Wookie porn for a friend. Keep checking back to see how I incorporate your requests!