Underworld: Blood Wars (2017) - Dread Central
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Underworld: Blood Wars (2017)



Underworld: Blood Wars

underworld blood wars final - Underworld: Blood Wars (2017)Starring Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Charles Dance, Lara Pulver, Tobias Menzies, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James

Directed by Anna Foerster

Underworld: Blood Wars is the fifth and potentially final movie in the series. It’s too short, as the last film in the series also was, skipping over important pieces of resolution towards the end, but otherwise serves as an appropriate denouement.

As it opens, Selene (Beckinsale) is on the run from just about everyone. The remaining vampire clans hate her for killing elders Viktor and Marcus. The lycans hate her because of her prominence as a Death Dealer, sending many wolves to the grave. Humans may still want her dead, too, although the mass extermination that opened Underworld: Awakening isn’t touched upon here.   

The vampires have begun rebuilding, although the purge has left them severely weakened and on the brink of extinction. To make matters worse, the lycans have regrouped under the leadership of Marius (Menzies) and are planning one final attack to finish them once and for all. The coven leader, Semira (Pulver), lures a reluctant Selene out of hiding in order to train an army of new recruits for one last battle.

I found Blood Wars unpredictable on more than one occasion (I also abstained from watching the last trailer, which was incredibly spoilery). Some of its developments are surprising, and it’s to the film’s credit that it juggles quite a few characters (many of them new) with ease. It’s most similar to Len Wiseman’s original Underworld in that sense. It cares about this world and its history, spending an admirable amount of time putting new players on the board while shuffling established ones to keep fans on their toes.

Because of this, I really enjoyed Blood Wars. Awakening was a fun action movie that was too worried about slowing down for a second in order to offer a substantial story. It was disappointing to wait six years for another Selene adventure so half-baked. But Blood Wars understands why the franchise garners its loyal following and is genuinely interested in expanding the mythos through new characters and possibilities. It’s the first time since the original that a Selene movie isn’t “The Selene Show.” She’s a great character and Blood Wars makes appropriate use of her, but others share significance and spotlight this time, and it’s most welcome.

Blood Wars splits its focus so Theo James’ David is as important as Selene. Indebted to her after Awakening’s events, he’s sent into the field to bring her in to help the vampires. He goes from a throwaway character (in Awakening) to one of the most important in a way that bridges earlier movies with the most recent ones. He shares many scenes with Charles Dance, whose return lends this endeavor more weight and authority. Dance is joined by another “Game of Thrones” alum, Tobias Menzies (Lord Edmure Tully himself) as the new lycan boss, Marius.

Marius isn’t as developed as Underworld’s previous lycan leader, but like Michael Sheen’s Lucian, Menzies is sympathetic about his ruthlessness. We never come to like him as much as Lucian, but there’s a sense of remorse in his villainy that feels true to the series.

Finally, Lara Pulver channels Eva Green as the vampire leader. She’s very fun to watch and steals every scene she’s in. I don’t want to compare her to Bill Nighy’s Viktor, except to say she strikes a similar combination of wicked camp without the obviousness. Other actors, like Clementine Nicholson and Bradley James, have little to do but are no less welcome. For the first time since the original, Underworld is ripe with ancillary characters that could be fun to watch in future iterations.

Blood Wars is also like the original Underworld in that it never pulls off a really great action sequence. Director Anna Foerster comes from television, and Blood Wars shows it. The opening motorcycle chase and ensuing fight are wasted, and the larger scale conflicts never come alive with the necessary excitement. They’re not bad, just perfunctory. Selene goes Thunderdome with a new Death Dealer in the best bit, although the close quarters throwdown ends just as it’s getting interesting. And the Selene versus Marius battle is rousing, if a little too fast. I can promise you I won’t see a better sight at the movies all year (or ever) than the lanky Beckinsale battling a hulking lycan on a frozen lake, though.

And Foerster has strengths that benefit Blood Wars. Selene is nearly broken, having lost everything throughout the last three movies, and a considerable chunk of her arc is charting how she deals with that. She spends her life on the run, having sent her vampire/lycan daughter into exile without knowing where (so her enemies can’t use her blood to find her), and that decision leaves her devastated. When she’s cornered by a pack of lycans, she’s exhausted; and the anguish is all over Beckinsale’s face. This is no longer the character we met in the first movie who loves her job and relishes her duty. Beckinsale isn’t afraid to go vulnerable with Selene, and she crafts a better character the more she does it. Critics moan about her “slumming it” inside this long-running franchise, overlooking the good and subtle work she does with Selene every time.

Blood Wars marks the first time none of the original writers have been involved in the writing. Cory Goodman’s script moves the series into mystical territory with the addition of a new Nordic Coven, vampires living in isolation on the edges of civilization. They’ve sat out the entirety of the Vampire and Lycan War, although it’s never made clear why. Nor is it explained how this clan possesses the ability to appear and disappear at will. The vampires of Underworld were brought into existence through genetic mutation, so this deliberately mystical infusion is a big step forward.

Anna Foerster has alluded to a longer cut of Blood Wars, and the movie would benefit. Fans of the series should be happy, despite some choppy character bits and a finale where major issues are resolved with minor emphasis and a little voiceover narration. The final battle is resolved in a laughable way (I’ll never stop chuckling at the way those lycans just turn around and shuffle off), but it works because the major villains are still handed cathartic action movie defeats. Blood Wars is a worthy addition to the franchise and an even better conclusion for Selene. It captures the spirit of the original while offering fun bursts of action, and Kate Beckinsale has never been better. What more can you ask for?


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