Oh my god, we’re Drac again.
Ding! Ding! Welcome, ladies and gentlemen to round 5 of the grand title bout. In the blue corner, the hairy biters, the silver dodging doggies, it’s their time of the month all month long…the werewolves Lycans! In the…er…other, slightly darker blue corner (because it’s an “Underworld” movie so there’s only one filter available), the mighty bitey, fangs for the memories, you can have any outfit as long as it’s black (and skimpy)…the vampires! Yes, we’re plunged back into the ongoing internecine conflict between the two divergent branches of the Corvinus dynasty. Families, eh?
With the war going badly for the vampires, Semira (Lara Pulver), a council member of the Eastern Coven manipulates Thomas (Charles Dance) into asking the council to grant Selene (Kate Beckinsale) clemency in return for her help in defeating the newly resurgent Lycans who have united under the leadership of the familiar sounding (but new) Marius (Tobias Menzies). But Semira has plans of her own and Selene will find out that enemy or ally, everybody is out for blood.
Although this is a direct sequel to 2012’s “Underworld: Awakening”, it unceremoniously exsanguinates much of the new blood that had transfused life into the franchise last time round. Selene’s daughter has left her, apparently wanting nothing to do with her and Selene has chosen to remain ignorant of her whereabouts to protect her. Also conspicuous by its total absence is the third warring faction: the humans who had become aware of the supernatural beasts in their midst. Clearly humans have not only forgotten but become oblivious because the vampires especially dress with zero subtlety – a pretentious hipster Goth aesthetic, light on the modesty – as they lounge around sipping their no doubt organic grande triple decaf soy blood with extra platelets.
Thankfully the film still retains the fundamental hallmarks of the “Underworld” franchise: stylised violence, spattery signature kills, tedious council deliberations, double triple and quadruple cross betrayals and a hidden secret from the past (yes, again). The past may be a foreign country, but in the “Underworld” universe, it’s an overpopulated one too. Because the vamps are a little monochromatic, there’s a new coven of vampires introduced too: a Nordic race all icy blonde and mystical. They may look like they’re cosplaying as Elves of Rivendell by way of the icy wastelands beyond Westeros’ Wall but there’s no denying their mumbo jumbo helps turn Selene into one bad ombrée.
Beckinsale can Selene in her sleep at this point (and occasionally seems to be doing so) and a returning Theo James seems more comfortable as the heroic vampire sidekick David. Lara Pulver practically devours the scenery, hamming it up to an almost Bill Nighy level while Bradley James provides her with a wooden surface to bounce her performance off. There’s fun still to be had with this OTT gothic soap opera, but it’s fully shifted over to a campy, ironic enjoyment rather than the genuine thrill of creatures of the night facing off, red in tooth and claw.
Stylish but stale, “Underworld: Blood Wars” suffers badly from seen-it-all-before syndrome and while it’s a perfectly serviceable entry for the franchise, it doesn’t offer anything worth getting excited about. Even its big dramatic moments are more likely to elicit giggles rather than gasps. The mystical Nordic Vampires aren’t different enough to revive the series and the franchise’s rigidly distinctive look means debut feature director Anna Foerster has no room to bring anything else new to the table. Preparations for a sixth instalment are apparently already underway, but it really feels like we’re flogging an undead horse already.