By: Hawk Ripjaw (Four Beers) –
Vampires and werewolves have always hated each other, for some reason. I Googled that reason, and a site called vampires.com, which is apparently the official source of information for the beasts and appears to have more effort put into it than the Trump and Hillary websites combined, informed me that the vampires used to enslave the werewolves, and they didn’t like that. The Underworld series follows that blueprint, except in this version the werewolves are Lycans and the vampires that hunt them are Death Dealers, because Hot Topic. They fought each other for a few movies, Death Dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) banged a vampire/Lycan hybrid named Scott Speedman, and Bill Nighy hams it up hardcore. Then they’re both in a really dumb sequel, and neither of them are in a pointless prequel. With Scott Speedman no longer interested in acting in the movies, they needed a new hunky dude to act alongside Kate Beckinsale, so David (Theo James) is thrown into the mix. David is a total bro and a pure-blooded hybrid, which makes about as much sense as the rest of this franchise. Selene has a daughter who is sent away at the end of Awakening. The franchise could probably end there but it doesn’t.
In Blood Wars, Selene is an outcast. The vampires don’t want her. The Lycans, led by Marius (Tobias Menzies), prepare to lead an assault against the vampire coven, the leadership of which is sought after by Semira (Lara Pulver). Semira wants Selene’s blood to become extra powerful, and so does Marius, who also injects vampire blood like a heroin addict anyway, while everyone else drinks other vampire blood to get their memories. Uh, Charles Dance plays David’s dad, there’s a secret Viking vampire coven somewhere in Skyrim, people can die and come back after leveling up, and almost everyone does just enough to give the payroll department a reason to sign off on that paycheck.
Underworld as a franchise has apparently existed just to see how tightly you can vacuum pack Kate Beckinsale into a catsuit (and, to a lesser degree, letting audiences play a rousing game of “Are They Real or are They 3D Printed” when it comes to the Scott Speedman abs). It’s worth noting, then, that as the franchise is handed off to a female director, the new film suddenly becomes less about crotch shots, ass shots, chest shots, and your brother’s money shots and more about Selene as a character. Unfortunately, this just lays bare how thinly written and empty the character actually is, but you have to applaud the attempt to move the needle away from oversexualization.
While the movie mostly doesn’t even attempt to be silly, there are just a couple of WTF moments that are worth mentioning, even if they don’t make the movie worth seeing. We have the immortal David and Marius running up/down a flight of stairs shooting at each other and, unfazed by the bullets, then roaring to squeeze the bullets out of themselves–which is even funnier when you can see that no one else saw the humor in it. Towards the climax, David is unloading his rifle on the Lycans, when he sees them roll out a massive Gatling gun. He delivers a slowed-down “oh, fuuuuuck,” and instead of taking cover, keeps firing. Earlier on, we have Semira glancing out of a window and quietly scheming… as she makes her male henchman perform fellatio on her. I feel like I say it far too often, but if the movie committed to that sort of nonsense wholesale, everyone would have a lot more fun.
If you had a movie about a superpowered vampire with vampire/werewolf hybrid blood that wore tight leather and shot everyone, and was caught in the middle of a war between vampires and werewolves, both of whom wanted her blood in order to become all-powerful, would you try to have a little bit of fun with that, or would you try to play it completely straight? Blood Wars, unfortunately, goes for the latter, and suffers for it. It’s frustratingly self-serious, like an idea that a high school student thinks is dark and badass, and never grows up to realize that it’s not. To their credit, Dance and Pulver squeeze as much fun as they can out of the movie with enjoyably campy performances, but Beckinsale and James are far too stoic to be compelling, and Menzies just doesn’t have enough to work with to match Dance and Pulver. Mostly, no one seems to give a shit.
Blood Wars imposes an aggressively high barrier for entry. As the fifth installment in a franchise that began over 13 years ago, it offers little for the uninitiated beyond a brief narrated rundown of the four prior films that essentially rattles of a handful of the series’ major plot points in under a minute. Even this feels more like a way to get fans up to speed, as those who haven’t seen the other films would have more questions than answers. Why did Bill Nighy get his face sliced off? Who is Scott Speedman playing and why does he look so awesome? Who is the guy with the insect legs on his back? Why did Selene kill those soldiers and what did they miss out on at the dinner that will be forever cold? The fact that you can dilute almost 8 hours of film into around 60 seconds bodes poorly for how much weight the lore of these films carry.
Maybe it’s because I had been up since four in the morning, maybe it was because the movie was badly written, or maybe it was because it’s hard to give a fuck about these movies anymore–actually, you know what, it was all of those things–but this is a difficult movie to follow. Nothing carries any weight, scenes don’t flow together in a compelling way, and it just feels lazy.
Somehow, as these movies keep coming out, each one has looked cheaper. Blood Wars is possibly the worst. The locales look like soundstages. The action is garbage save for the final act. There’s a scene where Selene and David are having a chat outside in the snow—er, on a soundstage with a set, against a painfully obvious green screen that the animators apparently decided to add some bluish haze, a couple of blurry mountains, and some other Bob Ross shit and call it good. The seams in the movie are more noticeable than the pieces.
Even the awful Awakening had some sense of reason in the Underworld lore. Blood Wars is a painful example of a franchise continuing to exist without reason. Instead of advancing the lore of the series, it comes up with plot points that it can resolve on its own, ending the story barely a step away from where it started, rendering an expensive 90 minutes completely unnecessary. It’s also devastatingly boring, and it’s hard to find a reason to care at all about what’s going on.
However, upon deeper evaluation, it’s also kind of more Underworld. It lacks some of what those original films had, but has other elements of what made it famous. Some of us have moved on from the franchise and no longer find anything to love in it, but others still want to see what else will happen in the war between the vampires and Lycans. Regardless of where you stand, Blood Wars probably won’t change it.
Underworld: Blood Wars (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever someone says “Blood.”
Do a Shot: whenever someone drinks blood.
Do a Shot: whenever someone roars.