Monday, December 26, 2016

Underworld: Blood Wars Is As Stylish And Dull As Its Predecessors!

The Good: Looks good, Moments of character
The Bad: Predictable reversals, Light on substantive character development, Astonishingly few decent performances, Mixed quality of the special effects
The Basics: For those who still give a damn, Underworld: Blood Wars presents a new chapter in the war between vampires and lycans where death dealer Selene is caught between the warring factions.

There are so many franchises out there that fans of science fiction, fantasy, and the overlaps with horror that are not just gross and dumb have to actually be discriminating about what franchises they emotionally and materially invest in. After all, collectors only have so much space and the truth is, the more material there is in any genre, the harder it is to not be derivative of works that already exist. While I am a big fan of science fiction and fantasy, I got out of the Underworld franchise pretty fast. Underworld (reviewed here!) did not impress me (less so now that the film spawned a franchise and the creative team could have eroded the mythos created at the beginning of the film over the course of several movies!) and I only ended up watching the prequel, Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans (reviewed here!) because I had access to it early through a screening. While I actually enjoyed Rise Of The Lycans, it was not enough to make me return to the franchise.

The whole "vampire vs. werewolf" genre has been (mostly) played out and the Underworld interpretation of it has largely prioritized style over substance. So, when I sat down to Underworld: Blood Wars, I had understandably low expectations. I did not expect the film to "wow" me and make me fall in love with the genre again. Sadly, even in the hands of director Anna Foerster, the Underworld franchise does not become anything original, compelling, or substantive in a way that might make it indispensable. In other words, Underworld: Blood Wars merely continues the trend of beautiful looking actors fighting in slow motion against computer-generated werewolves in a predictable story that is essentially a pointless war story blended with palace intrigue. Underworld: Blood Wars is a particularly unimaginative cinematic outing that is fairly accessible to those who have not been fans, but is unlikely to make anyone who does not love the Underworld franchise into a convert.

After a brief recap of who Selene is and how the war between the vampires and werewolves has changed in recent years, Selene admits that she is now an outcast, hunted by both sides while her vampire/human hybrid daughter, Eve, is kept effectively hidden. After Selene learns of the new lycan leader, Marius, who is sending his minions to find Eve and is amassing an army to take out the Eastern Coven of vampires. The vampire leader Thomas meets with council member Semira, who wants Selene to be dispatched to kill Marius. Semira tries to convince Thomas to convince the council to invite Selene to give her the mission. At the werewolf headquarters, Marius tells his lieutenants that he wants Eve's blood in order to make the lycans invincible against the vampires.

But when Selene rescues David, the lycans who attacked him put a tracker on him and when the vampire council makes its offer to Selene for amnesty for her past crimes, the lycans move in on Selene's safe house. Forced to accept their invitation, Selene and David arrive at the headquarters of the Eastern Coven where she is asked to train the potential death dealers into an anti-lycan army. But, during a training exercise, Varga (Semira's lover) springs his trap and incapacitates Selene and slays the potential death dealers. Varga and Semira begin exsanguinating Selene, but the death dealer is rescued by Thomas and David, the former of whom pays with his life. While the Eastern Coven mobilizes under Semira's leadership to begin hunting Selene so her blood might give the vampires a fighting chance against the lycans, Alexia is dispatched to spy on Marius's horde. Alexia, however, is in love with Marius and Marius is unwilling to fight Semira without Selene's blood to make the lycans powerful enough to definitively win against the vampires. Selene and David take refuge in the frozen north, at a coven protected by Lena, where David learns the truth of his own lineage. When the frozen coven is breached, David must step up to protect the Eastern Coven from both the power-hungry Semira and the invading horde led by Marius.

To its credit, having not seen at least two of the Underworld films that preceded Underworld: Blood Wars, I found the newest installment incredibly accessible. Underworld: Blood Wars goes out of its way to repeat information in order to make it possible to step into the film and know exactly what is going on, in addition to how the protagonists got to where they are. That, alas, does not make it much better, save that viewers will instantly understand the relationship between Selene and David, the war between the vampires and lycans and that in this franchise, blood stores memories.

But beyond the accessibility, Underworld: Blood Wars has shockingly little of substance to it. Marius is a very thinly-drawn antagonist and the palace intrigue aspect of Underworld: Blood Wars is presented in an incredibly soap operatic way. The characters are not as compellingly fleshed out as to make the reversals bear any real emotional significance, so they seem merely to be acts of plot convenience. The betrayals by Semira and Alexia (is there something misogynistic going on with the untrustworthy women of the Underworld franchise>?!) are more predictable than audacious and they continue a trend of enemies who are presented as hardly smart, capable, or strong enough to have gotten to the positions they have.

Selene in Underworld: Blood Wars is presented as a very generic heroine and given how everyone seems after her (or Eve's) blood, she lacks a sense of being unique and powerful in a complicated world filled with supernatural entities. While Selene is used at plot-convenient moments, David is given more fleshing out as a character in Underworld: Blood Wars. Unfortunately, David is not inherently interesting to watch and most of his characterization in Underworld: Blood Wars that makes him at all special is given as straightforward exposition as opposed to on-screen examples of his abilities or quality of character. Ironically, given that Underworld: Blood Wars bears an R-rating, the film takes few narrative risks that would make it compelling to an adult audience.

On the performance front, the best acting in Underworld: Blood Wars comes from performers acting seamlessly with the computer-generated elements. The actors all seem to get the eyelines right and they look credible while combating the unreal elements. Unfortunately, Underworld: Blood Wars continues to prioritize style over substance. Daisy Head, who plays Alexia, is not given a lot of passion to play or substance to her character; her part is to open her round eyes wide and look cute or gorgeous when she is not engaged in action scenes. Head does fine with the comparatively minor role, but most of her time on screen is window dressing. Clementine Nicholson has a similar role, though her Lena is at least more substantive in her shading (not literally!) than Lara Pulver's Semira.

Underworld: Blood Wars looks good and it moves fast, but it is surprisingly boring. The characters are shoved around the good-looking settings, betraying one another in a war that has lost any sense of meaning or relevance and is being carried out by rote. Underworld: Blood Wars is fast-paced and good-looking, but hardly entertaining.

For other movies currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Doctor Strange
Cardboard Boxer


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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