Underworld: Blood Wars

For the fifth time in this misbegotten series, which has never risen above the perfect mediocrity of its second installment, we are reminded that the layers of myth and legend that fuel the endless exposition of the Underworld series amounts to approximately nothing of remotest substance. Underworld: Blood Wars is one of the most egregious examples of this, and it's telling from the first sequence of Cory Goodman's screenplay -- a "Previously on..." recap that wishes to update those just picking up the series (Why would you be if you stayed away for this long) and to remind those who might have forgotten what happened (The fact that several years generally transpires between installments means forgetfulness is likely). The exposition that follows doesn't have much more dignity.

Previously on the Underworld saga, so-called "death dealer" Selene (Kate Beckinsale), who has acted as heroine and protagonist in the series since the first film, was forced to exile her daughter to God-knows-where because of the endless feud between vampires and Lycans (read: werewolves). Now covens of vampires are on the search for Selene as an enemy of the State, with only David (Theo James, a washboard-abbed block of wood as always) and his sympathetic father Thomas (Charles Dance, whose genuinely solid performance here is wasted) to protect her, and Lycans want her for her magical blood (inherited to her by her daughter, who was the "purebred hybrid" of the consummation of Selene's romance with her vampire/Lycan hybrid of a former lover). The wolves have a new leader, too, to succeed the one Selene killed, some sort of other kind of hybrid thing named Marius (Tobias Menzies).

Some of Goodman's plot genuinely wants to find some sort of meaningful middle-ground between the procedural quality of the main through line and the soap-opera theatrics of the various subplots, from a power-grabbing leader among the vampires named Semira (Lara Pulver) to a forbidden romance for Marius to the business regarding an honest-to-goodness political rabble-rousing from other vampire elders to the secret of David's parentage. The film rushes through all of these plots, doing none of them any favors in the process and simplifying much of the conflict to endless posturing from actors who look like they can't believe what they're having to say half the time. No emotional connection is forged between any of these cardboard cut-outs and the audience, not even Selene, and one can see the growing despair in Beckinsale's face as she must wear those ice-blue contacts in every scene.

And once again, the film is visually drab, crisply shot by cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub but so reliant on its varying shades of blue and metal-gray that genuine scope is limited to the visual effects, which look rubbery when they transform the Lycans into their animalistic selves or when they disintegrate vampires in wisps of blue-black smoke upon contact with sunlight or the UV bullets (yes, seriously) kept in the handguns of Marius and his cronies. The action sequences are a little more classically staged by director Anna Foerster than the choppy bursts of motion in the previous films, but it's impossible to care about anything that happens when everything is this inconsequential. Underworld: Blood Wars is more of the same, only lazier.

Film Information

Kate Beckinsale (Selene), Theo James (David), Lara Pulver (Semira), Tobias Menzies (Marius), Charles Dance (Thomas), Bradley James (Varga).

Directed by Anna Foerster and written by Cory Goodman.

Rated R (bloody violence, sexuality).

91 minutes.

Released on January 6, 2017.

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