The Underworld movies are kind of like Nickelback. You’d be hard pressed to find a single person who admits to liking them, yet they continue to be massive successes. Underworld: Blood Wars is somehow the fifth flick in this never-ending cycle of pretty people wearing leather caught in a war between vampires and werewolves. The concept sounds like a can’t miss geek fix. It’s got guns and blood and sexiness and mythology and monsters and all sorts of other things that typically make for ADD entertainment. Yet from the very first entry, the Underworld movies have been a boring and convoluted mess. It feels like posturing, the product of folks who understand the commercial appeal of genre entertainment but not why the stories are worth telling. Yet the movies keep making money, so sequels keep getting produced. Here comes the next one and it’s about as good as the last one, which is to say, “not very.”
The easiest way to explain what any Underworld movie is about is to sum it up with a single word: nothing. Unfortunately, that’s not how reviews work, I’ll try for a bit more. So Kate Beckinsale’s “Death Dealer” vampire warrior is back. This time that daughter of hers with mixed monster magic blood (don’t ask) has been sent away for safety to avoid the overall messy narrative of Underworld from advancing significantly. Instead, Beckinsale is approached by the vampire counsel (including an underused Charles Dance) to help fight off a new army of werewolves, but the truth is more complicated.
Well, not really. It just means that Beckinsale is caught in the middle again with the vampires and werewolves all wanting to kill her and track down her daughter. There are some vampire politics involved and the threat of war. You know, the same old crap that didn’t make much sense in the last four movies and doesn’t make any more sense here.
As always, Underworld: Blood Wars treats everything deathly seriously to the movie’s detriment. This franchise has played out almost side-by-side with the equally inexplicably unstoppable Resident Evil series, but sadly never embraced its inherent silliness with tongue-in-cheek camp like those endless zombie flicks. There’s no irony here. No humor. No heart. It’s just a bunch of exhausted actors spitting out words that they don’t understand written by writers who didn’t care. None of it adds up to much of anything. It’s all pretty simple, backed by just enough needlessly convoluted backstory to give off the illusion of being complicated. The movie is confusing, but mostly because it’s so damn difficult to pay attention or get invested. The desperation in the Underworld franchise kicked in somewhere before the end of the first movie. None of the sequels have clarified or simplified things. The soap opera just keeps marching on with no functioning brains in charge of the messy madness.
On the plus side, veteran TV director Anna Forester does at least have some fun staging action scenes. It’s all glossy and clear and big and expensive and violent. If you’re desperate to see vampires fighting werewolves in heavily choreographed 90s-esque action sequences, you’ll get plenty here. Plus, it’s all shot in that blue n’ black colour scheme that gives off the illusion of darkness. Kate Beckinsale is once again better than the series deserves, lending gravity that shouldn’t be possible to a series that doesn’t deserve it. You can’t help but feel bad that she didn’t land in an actually decent action franchise rather than this, given that she’s so good at pulp gravitas and jump kicking in skintight slacks. She would have made a great Wonder Woman, but that didn’t happen. At least she has a franchise. Too bad it’s horrible.
More than anything else, the most frustrating part of watching Underworld: Blood Wars is seeing how little this series has grown over the years. Even when this franchise kicked off in 2003 it already felt dated, combining bits of Blade and The Matrix and The Lord Of The Rings with fuzzy werewolf effects, because why not? Now it’s a relic of an outdated age, something to fulfill the nostalgia of the easily entertained and even more easily aroused. This isn’t even a failed vampire/werewolf action movie that’s worth a few campy laughs. It’s just a bunch of boring talky bits and action scenes that might have seemed cool a decade ago. Underworld: Blood Wars should be avoided at all costs. But then, that was true of the last four movies as well and somehow enough people showed up to keep this lame duck waddling. It’ll probably happen again. There will be another Underworld.
God help us all.