If one searches for the definition of a guilty pleasure, the first Underworld film is undeniably one of the best examples of the term. However, while the franchise has never been known for its nuanced storytelling or memorable characters (other than Selene, of course), the stylish action and groundbreaking practical effects seemed to dwindle in quality over the years. 2012’s Underworld: Awakening was particularly bitter evidence of this, with its over-abundant CGI and extremely convoluted plot. Naturally, this left many fans skeptical of Blood Wars, Anna Foerster’s attempt at returning the franchise to its roots.
Once again starring Kate Beckinsale as the lycan-slaying Selene, Underworld: Blood Wars chronicles her attempts to end the prolonged war between lycans and vampires, as the escalating conflict threatens her concealed daughter’s life. When a new, brutal lycan leader emerges in the form of Marius, played by Tobias Menzies, the vampires are forced to plead for Selene’s help, though she is unaware of the deadly political schemes concocted by the ambitious vampire Semira, played by Lara Pulver.
The Underworld Franchise obviously hasn’t been able to shake its love for convoluted politics and inexplicable love triangles, but at the very least Blood Wars is a marginal improvement over its predecessor in almost ever way. The boring human/sci-fi elements of the previous film are largely ignored in favor of the vampire-lycan war, and the action feels much more grounded with incredible wire-fu and stunt-work, not to mention a return to practical werewolf effects in a few scenes!
Sadly, competent action isn’t enough to justify a movie’s existence, and Blood Wars has more than its fair share of flaws. With the exception of the more experienced actors like Beckinsale, Charles Dance, Tobias Menzies and Lara Pulver, some of the performances in this film can be downright laughable. While these dubious moments are usually reserved for minor characters, it can still get very distracting. Nevertheless, Theo James’ return as Selene’s ally, David, was a surprisingly entertaining addition to the film, as the script managed to turn him into a likable and interesting King Arthur-esque character.
One of the best aspects of the film is its exploration of a previously unseen chapter of vampire mythology, as the ensuing conflict leads Selene to the residence of a mythic clan of Nordic vampires. The differences in style and culture kept Blood Wars from feeling too familiar, and provided us with some interesting set-pieces in a snowy environment. That being said, I wasn’t a fan of Selene’s newfound Nordic powers, as these movies are usually at their best when the action is kept grounded and believable. It’s hard to feel that a character is in any real danger when they have the means to magically resolve any kind of conflict.
Overall, Underworld: Blood Wars isn’t quite the sequel that we deserve, but it does take a few much-needed steps in the right direction. Foerster’s film actually manages to provide our main character with some form of closure, and though we know that future Underworld films are inevitable, that’s still a commendable feat. Either way, this is one franchise that has never really been preoccupied with anything other than action, so for some, Blood Wars can be deemed a success. That being said, if you like your shoot’em up set pieces and sword fights served with a side order of believable characters and a memorable story, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.
Underworld: Blood Wars will be available in theaters everywhere January, 6th!