UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS review

(FIRST IMPRESSIONS)

Many of us are well aware of this hit franchise. The surprise success of UNDERWORLD (2003) was a popular vampire/werewolf action movie that had a unique and sexy look to it. It could very well be argued that is catapulted Kate Beckinsale’s career into mainstream stardom. The film has since spawned two sequels and a prequel. What’s my take on these films? Well…

UNDERWORLD was my favorite movie for years, as many of my friends would tell you. And for those of you that don’t know, Beckinsale became my favorite actress. Yeah, okay, she looked damn good in that skin-tight catsuit holding automatic pistols, sporting blue eyes and fangs, I developed an instant crush that has been steady ever since. Never mind her looks, I do think she’s an incredible actress, but that’s a rant for later. This movie was bad-ass. It was that incredible mix of horror and action and did so much for my taste in movies. It got me into vampires and werewolves, it obviously got me into Beckinsale and Michael Sheen, it got me into goth women, stories with rich and expansive mythologies (neither Star Wars nor Lord of the Rings did that for me), and dark and gritty action films. It was a thrill ride I’d never experienced at that point, nor since. Is the movie as flawless as I remember? Remorsefully no. The script isn’t always well-written, it isn’t without some major plot-holes, a few bad acting moments, specifically from Shane Brolly (not his fault; he had some unnatural lines), a lot of the effects don’t really hold up, and the practical effects can be pretty obviously fake. But having said all that, I love the performances from Beckinsale, Sheen, Scott Speedman, even Brolly delightfully chewed the scenery from time to time. I still can’t help but smile and have a great time with it.

UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION (2006) was the first movie I’d ever seen more than twice in theatres (three times total). Continuing the story with some hybrid on hybrid fight scenes, which were always satisfying, some impressive effects with Marcus and even showcased Selene with some more emotions. I won’t lie, I cried once. Yeah, let that sink in for a minute. I loved the crap out of this movie and I didn’t shut up about it for a long time. Once again, does it hold up over ten years later? Once again… again, not really. Many more plot-holes are littered everywhere, important characters that should have been developed more get very little or none at all, the script is once again not always well-written, inconsistencies with it’s own lore and rules, and director Len Wiseman dropped the ball on a lot of the action scenes. But once again… again, I still had an awesome time with it. Despite how poor the direction was for the action scenes are, they were still really awesome to watch, Beckinsale was given a lot more to work with, and I still love the hybrid on hybrid fight scenes.

UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS (2009) was the prequel film. Before this movie was announced, there was a tie-in novel called Underworld: Blood Enemy back in 2006 that served as a double prequel to UNDERWORLD. It features dueling stories featuring Selene before the events of the first film, and detailed Lucian’s birth, enslavement by the vampires, his romance with Viktor’s daughter Sonja, a crazy lycan female who loved Lucian if I remember correctly, and the origins of Kraven and Soren’s relationship that would ultimately lay the seeds of overthrowing Viktor and taking control of the Coven. The fans who read it loved it; myself included. However, the film wasn’t an adaptation of this story. Instead, it was it’s own thing and got pretty much the most important stuff down. Lucian was born a slave, but didn’t care too much despite being treated poorly by the vampires, there was a legit connection between him and Sonja (Rhona Mitra – who did indeed look incredibly similar to Selene). Was it my favorite of the franchise? No, but I still get giddy at Sheen and Bill Nighy’s portrayals of their characters and I became of fan of Mitra this way too. I thought the final seconds were pointless, but other than that, I still really liked it.

UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING (2012). At long last, a continuation of Selene’s story was finally in the works. But curious, a lot of the trailer didn’t feature fan-favorite Michael, which put a lot of fears in order. And when it came out… yeah, this was the weakest film of the franchise, but AGAIN, I still really liked it. I liked Selene as a surprise new mother and how she had to adapt to being around Eve (India Eisley), this movie introduced me to Theo James… pre-Divergent series, so he was more respectable… or at least there was a “cool” factor to him, as well as the introduction of human-character Detective Sebastian (Michael Ealy). The major problem I had with the film is that it seemed to promise a three-way war between vampires, lycans, and now humans. But by the end of the movie, the characters we were lead to believe were humans turned out to be lycans. So… a bit of a mislead, which wasn’t cool. And the big bad monster was literally just a giant lycan. No imagination here. A wasted opportunity for endless possibilities. But still, there was a heavy implication for a sequel and it offered the same possibilities, so I remain excited and hopeful.

Now for this film. I’ve largely avoided trailers, but I do have my questions. Where’s Michael? Where’s Eve? And now early reviews and ratings are not being kind. I don’t know how I’ll feel about this. I guess as long as Beckinsale keeps kicking ass and looking good while doing it, fewer stupid over-sized monsters, and intense violence, I think I’ll be an easy customer with this one and pretty forgiving. I guess we’ll see.

Well, let’s take a look at the cast. Beckinsale obviously returns. Like I said, she’s my favorite actress out there and I think she’s got great diversity. From dramas like SNOW ANGELS (2007), psychological films like STONEHEARST ASYLUM (2014), and both contemporary comedies like SERENDIPITY (2001) and period comedies like LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (2016). James also returns, hopefully to be in something a little more respectable than the Divergent series. No problems with the man himself, he seems talented enough, but I haven’t seen him yet in that role that will make him a household name.

Now for behind the scenes. Directing is Anna Foerster, primarily a director of TV shows like CRIMINAL MINDS and OUTLANDER, making this her feature film debut. Congrats, miss. She’s also slated for the upcoming SOURCE CODE 2, due out… who knows when. We’ll see how that pans out, huh? Penning the screenplay is Cory Goodman, known for THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2015) and PRIEST (2011). This has me worried. Though I didn’t hate WITCH HUNTER, neither it nor PRIEST were well received. Granted, Goldman co-write WITCH HUNTER with two other writers, so he may not be entirely to blame for its failure, PRIEST was entirely written by him. Composing the score is Michael Wandmacher, known for PIRANHA 3D (2010), PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (2008), and CRY_WOLF (2005). Finally, the cinematographer is Karl Walter Lindenlaub, known for NINE LIVES (2016), NINJA ASSASSIN (2009), and INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996).

Overall, yeah, I should probably expect to see the worst that these movies can offer, but… it’s Underworld. It’s Beckinsale. I can’t see myself full-on hating this film. I think, at worst, I’ll just think it’s bad, but still enjoyable. The worst this can do is be so bad that I can’t enjoy it. So… I guess we’ll see.

This is my honest opinion of UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS.

(SUMMARY)

Selene (Kate Beckinsale), the infamous Death Dealer returns. Having enough of the war, she has hid her sought-after hybrid daughter Eve, even from herself. But both the new vampire Coven and the lycan hordes continue to hunt her down. Reunited with David (Theo James), they are summoned by the vampire Coven under an oath of peace, knowing that they are losing their war against the lycans, who are being led by their new leader Marius (Tobias Menzies). Despite her grudge against Selene for killing Viktor, Semira (Lara Pulver), a recently accepted Council member, as well as her respected friend and David’s father Thomas (Charles Dance) get the Council to accept locating Selene and recruit her to train the new vampire soldiers, as few have Selene’s kill count over the centuries.

(REVIEW)

YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAH, bitch! Agggghhhh, I still love these movies after all this time and this one is no exception. Having said that, it’s still continuing its tradition of bad writing, baffling mix of good and awful ideas, and plot holes galore.

The movie starts off recapping the original movies and then Selene narrates what happened between AWAKENING and here. Within the first five, ten minutes, a plot hole and confusing story element shows up. In order to protect Eve, she’s sent her away in hiding, even from herself. Well, if it’s so easy to just send her away, why not go with her? Selene makes it clear that she wants nothing to do with the vampire/lycan conflict, constantly running from them both. So lose your trademark catsuit and trench coat, change your hair color, and go on the lamb. It shouldn’t be this hard to hide from these people.

Moving on, cue bad-ass action scene with lycans trying to capture Selene for her blood with harpoon guns, but Selene’s all like, “Nah, bitches,” and kicks a ton of ass before David shows up to save her. Selene lets one lycan go, shooting him in both feet, and take off. That lycan gets back to Marius who is… yeah, not Lucian. Fuck this dude in more ways than one. He’s also not happy that Selene isn’t in their custody. Big shock.

So now we see Thomas show up at the new Coven and meets up with newly appointed Council member Semira. She still hates Selene for both replacing her as Viktor’s best Death Dealer, and for killing him. I won’t lie, I kind of like Semira as a character. She has this history that you can kind of understand. Once top dog, relegated to a far lesser position in a different Coven, but acknowledges that the vampires are on the losing end of the war and they need Selene’s aide. So you do see this inner conflict, but she still has to maintain a calm, professional demeanor. I enjoy Pulver’s performance. There is a subtle deviousness to her, but it’s still pretty delightful. I couldn’t help but think that this role could have also gone to Eva Green, but maybe she would have been a little too over the top with it, so Pulver is a wiser choice.

So they send out a letter to Selene, pardoning her in exchange for helping to train the new recruits in their war. Now here’s where it gets pretty silly, but trust me, if this was the worst thing this movie offered, it’d be downright good. The vampires have a virtual reality training room where they shoot holographic lycans, and when “killed” they pixelate. I’ve played video games in Dave & Busters more realistic than this shit. And why the hell would the training simulation only have the wolf models? More than half these action sequences feature lycans in their human forms with machine guns. How is Selene’s advise for “don’t aim where they are; anticipate” going to help these recruits if they opposition is packing firearms?

From this point on, I’ll be diving into spoiler territory. If you don’t want to know anymore, and just want to know my opinion, CTRL-F and type END SPOILERS.

***SPOILERS***

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And now, we get to probably one of the worst parts of the movie. In a caged sparring area, Selene and Semira’s right hand man Varga (Bradley James) hop into the arena to show these recruits how to properly fight. Selene loses because Varga cheats by stabbing Selene with a poisoned knife that leaves her paralyzed. Already, I’m twitching my eye because Semira’s explained how they’re losing this war against the lycans, and they need Selene’s help to train their soldiers, only to reveal that this was an elaborate ruse to get her close to them to kill her for her past transgressions, but if this was the worst this movie had to offer, then it’d be a much better movie. So what happens to make it worse? I caution to remove any glasses you might be wearing because this will result in an epic face-palm that will make Captain Picard proud. Are you good? Good… *inhale* In order to frame Selene and make her a wanted fugitive again, Semira orders Varga to murder all the recruits in the room. *hands you an ice pack* I love these movies, but by god, was that stupid. Once again, so much emphasis is placed on how much the vampires are losing their war. If you’re losing a war, you need soldiers, raw or otherwise. You need bodies to hold guns. Semira’s plans are completely bonkers. Even the revelation that she wants to kill Selene by hooking her up to a machine intended to drain her dry so she can drink it and be as powerful as Selene, the woman can still be killed if a few lycans got their hands around her. Selene may be immortal, but she’s not invincible, if that makes sense. Awe, who am I kidding. Not a whole lot in Underworld has ever made sense. The point I’m trying to make, yeah, this is arguably one of the worst written films in the franchise. But trust me, we haven’t gotten to the rest yet.

Thomas and David immediately know that this shit is happened and find Selene hooked up to the machine. They free her, but Thomas stays behind to fight off Semira as David escapes with a severely weakened Selene. Successful, Selene recovers and escape far away with the intention of locating another vampire stronghold called the Nordic Coven. I guess they’re vampires that prefer not to involve themselves in the war and are a little more peace-loving than traditional vampires. In any case, Semira sends her best gal, Alexia (Daisy Head), to track down Selene, suspecting that she’ll go to the Nordic Coven. By the way, fun fact for all y’all. Anyone here a Buffy fan? Daisy Head is Anthony Head’s (Giles) daughter. I thought that was a cute little connection: one a vampire hunter, the other a vampire. Anyway, we randomly find out that Alexia is Marius’ lover… um… okay… and they go looking for Selene together.

So Selene and David finally arrive at the Nordic Coven and they’re met with the vampires there. We learn two things. One, we learn that there’s apparently a “spirit world.” I haven’t slightest idea anything about it. The movie doesn’t explain and it barely plays a part in the rest of the film. It’s a deus ex machina and I’ll tell you why in a minute. The second thing we learn is that David’s long-dead mother is none other than former High Council member Amelia and that he’s the rightful heir to the Coven they just left from… … … Of fucking course he is! Because how else are you going to make David a more important character than making him a relative of a character that we knew next to nothing about. You know, I really hate when movie sequels do this, throwing in random family members that were never alluded to. It feels like such a cop-out to make the character seem like he or she will have more of an impact on the story. Because God-forbid that you have to use your imagination and write your characters to overcome serious obstacles and it’s the result of their actions and convictions that make them important, not parental privilege. It was annoying when TV show TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES did it, it was annoying when THE LITTLE MERMAID 2 (2000) did it, it was annoying when PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS (2013), it’s just plain annoying when movies do this.

Alright, so the lycans appear and attack the Nordic fortress. Once again, doing what Underworld does best, BAD-ASS ACTION!!! Guns ablazing, swords chopping up lycans, and a freakin’ awesome warrior named Lena (Clementine Nicholson) who can turn into smoke and teleport places, it’s pretty freakin’ sweet. I think the rules on this power need to be addressed because she still finds herself cornered and needs David to save her, but still, awesome! Also, why is she the only one that does this? Haven’t any of these other Nordic vampires gone to this spirit world? No explanation… and honestly, in the moment, I don’t really care because Lena is my new favorite character. I know nothing about her, but I like her snowy look and powers.

And now, the time has come. Selene versus Marius. This fight is memorable for one one thing: the other absolutely worst part of the movie. Remember how in AWAKENING that the big-ass lycan was the worst the franchise ever offered? Well, I thought it could never be topped. It… uh… it got topped. You wanna know what Marius turns into? A slightly larger-than-average wolf body with his human head slightly enlarged. Yeah… it’s… it’s awful. It’ll haunt your nightmares because of how unimaginative and utterly stupid it looks. Give me back the big-ass lycan, that had a shit-ton more dignity than this. Anyway, this monstrosity beats Selene and then is stabbed in the back by Alexia, who tastes Selene’s blood and verifies that she doesn’t know where Eve is. Selene decides to end her own life by drowning herself under the frozen lake they were fighting on and Marius and the lycans retreat.

Selene’s body is recovered and placed in the pool where vampires go experience the spirit world… I assume that’s what’s going on there and David heads back to the Eastern Coven. Before he arrives, Semira kills Alexia, knowing about the affair she had with Marius. David arrives and proves that he’s Amelia’s son and joins the vampires remaining soldiers to fight the oncoming lycan horde. Once more, bad-ass action until the lycans gain the upper hand. Just as Marius comes in to kill David, WHAM, mother fucker! Selene with a little white in her raven hair and the ability to vape-teleport like Lena. Speaking of Lena, she in all her bad-assery and many other Nordic vampires join the fight and Selene and Marius have a second fight while David and Semira dual out as well, David eventually coming out on top.

Here’s the last real issue I have with the movie. Selene tastes a drop of Marius’ blood and she sees his memories… of encountering Michael and supposedly killing him for his blood, explaining his freak-show horror transformation. Once again, OF FUCKING COURSE Marius ran into Michael. But never mind that, seriously?! The most awesome character in the entire franchise and you kill him off… OFF SCREEN?! What in fucking blazes is the matter with you, Goodman?! I mean, this better be a fucking lie. If Michael is dead because of lame screenwriting, I’m going to flip a bitch. He’s a hybrid! And he got killed by some pussy-pup Lucian knock-off? Fuck that! Anyway, some satisfaction, Selene kills Marius by ripping his spine out and ripping his head off, effectively forcing the remaining lycans to retreat. Selene, David, and Lena become the new Council members, I guess and we get a closing shot of Selene in the Nordic fortress reunited with Eve, whom I’m assuming is a digital face of India Eisley.

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***END SPOILERS***

So how do I actually feel about this latest installment? It suffers from bad screenwriting, much like the previous films. Too many plot holes, some poorly-explained elements, and far too much new shit that’s never developed. I’m frustrated that neither Michael nor Eve are in the film, there’s a ton of problems, making it one of the weaker films of the franchise. So if you’re one of those people that’s going to sit there and analyze the story looking for problems, you’ll find plenty. But to be perfectly honest… I still really like it. Bad writing was always present in the films, but that’s not what fans, or myself, loved about it. We loved the seriousness of the story. The over-the-top action, violence, and gore. We love Selene kicking major ass while dual-wielding machine-gun pistols. And we love Beckinsale. I think even the most die-hard fans know they’re not great movies. Hell, some of us can even admit that they’re bad. But they’re still beyond entertaining, sleek, sexy, and awesome. Do I recommend this movie? If you’ve been a fan of the franchise, you’ll be fine here. If not, only go in if you want to see vampires and werewolves with machine-guns. Otherwise… yeah, I don’t see anyone taking a real interest in this. But I liked it and I hope to see it again.

It’s also worth noting that it’s been confirmed that a sequel is being made. Best guess, we can probably expect an update sometime next year. That will obviously depend on how this one does that the box office. Time will tell, but my fingers are crossed.

My honest rating for UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS: 4/5

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