Underworld: Blood Wars Isn’t the Howler It Needs to Be
Dull action, forgettable characters, and dialogue that feels poorly improvised combine for lifeless film.
The first smart move Underworld: Blood Wars makes is with its opening scene – it recaps the important events of the four previous films in the franchise highlighting relevant characters and story turns before landing viewers in the present with our narrator and lead under threat from all sides.
There is no second smart move.
Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a biter – a humanoid species that drinks blood and wears leather to survive – and years ago she upset her kind by getting busy with a human turned shedder named Michael. The biters have been at war with the shedders – people who grow excessive body hair and lose their opposable thumbs when angry – for centuries, and Selene’s new mission became finding a way to end the slaughter. Now Michael is dead, their daughter Eve is in hiding, and both biters and shedders alike are on the hunt.
After surviving an attack by the hairy beasts Selene pairs off with a biter named David (Theo James) who eventually convinces her that the Eastern Coven – a group that had called for her head after her betrayal and occasionally throws goth soirees with mandatory Max Landis hairstyles – now welcomes her back in the hopes that Selene can train their young recruits. Loyalty is a rare commodity in the underworld though, and soon betrayal and deception leave the biters disjointed and exposed to a full-on assault by a shedder army led by a mysterious and powerful new leader, Marius (Tobias Menzies).
The initial appeal of the Underworld films was a combination of factors – they’re a genre mash-up of action and horror, there’s a female ass-kicker front and center, and Len Wiseman’s style was a slick appropriation of fight scenes straight out of The Matrix. All three of these strengths have seen diminishing returns over the years leading to a fifth film that lacks much in the way of entertainment value. Underworld: Blood Wars is a dull, jumbled film that fails to excite with either its characters’ plights or its action sequences.
We’re meant to feel for Selene as she pines for the loss of her lover, her daughter, and a place to call home, but Beckinsale can’t sell the pain. To be fair though, the script makes it difficult for her at every turn. A big deal is repeatedly made about how difficult it is to attack a pair of covens, and then we see the enemy walk right in. It feels almost improvised at times as characters spout exposition that sounds like nonsense and state the obvious at every turn.
A character is shot at one point and asks what the object is as Selene removes it… to which she replies, “It’s some sort of bullet.”
And speaking of bullets, the immediate appeal of watching biters and shedders engage in shootouts is clear, but neither side appears all that invested. They use regular bullets for long stretches to keep the fights going, before finally someone busts out a “special” bullet actually designed for killing the enemy. If you’re a biter why not case every bullet in silver? If you’re a shedder why not lace every projectile with nightshade? It’s endlessly stupid.
The action troubles continue with amateurish choreography, coverage, and writing as it feels throughout as if characters on both sides almost want to lose. There’s no urgency or drama to the fights, and characters seem lackluster in their effort until it’s apparently time for them to win. Director Anna Foerster, a protege of Roland Emmerich, and editor Peter Amundson fail to generate thrills or suspense from any of the sequences leaving us with monochromatic characters and sets that seem to all blend together.
Underworld: Blood Wars gives us characters new and old whose primary motivation, aside from dressing to fit the stereotypes of their respective clans – biters are stylish elites who probably think a single banana cost $10, shedders are brutish thugs who most likely voted for Trump – is to find Selene’s mixed-breed daughter. The problem is we just don’t care. (And not for nothing, but have they even tried just fucking and biting each other until they get some mix-breeds of their own?)