What began with 2003’s Underworld as sort of a werewolf vs. vampire spin on the classic Romeo and Juliet template has gradually transformed into a full-scale action/horror franchise. From the 2006 sequel (Evolution) and the 2009 prequel (Rise of the Lycans) to … another sequel in 2012 (Awakening, which most fans agree is the series low point) and now 2017’s Blood Wars, Sony and Screen Gems seem intent on squeezing every last drop of blood out of this franchise. In a cinematic landscape that offers very little in mid-budget, genre mash-up, B-movie, Saturday afternoon matinee silliness, well, a movie geek could probably do worse than to curl up with Kate Beckinsale for yet another goofy, overbaked, and enjoyably unpretentious tale of angst-ridden vampires and overtly aggressive werewolves.
The plot is as vague as it is inconsequential: Selene (Ms. Beckinsale, as beautiful, grumpy, and kick-ass as ever) returns to assist the vampire coven that once hunted her down because there’s a new threat from the werewolves. Plus there’s this whole thing about Selene’s long-lost daughter’s blood that’s not really all that important, as well as a bunch of florid blather about bloodlines and legacies, but really it’s all just the same ol’ Underworld plot machinations that exist primarily to fill in space between all the action scenes. And unless you’re a huge fan of redundant dialogue that could be copied directly from any of the previous movies, that’s where Underworld: Blood Wars really gets fun: in the mayhem department.
Whether it’s Selene going toe-to-toe with a snotty next-gen vampire level boss or it’s throngs of monsters going at it with swords, teeth, claws, and machine guns, Underworld: Blood Wars certainly doesn’t skimp on the action. First-time feature director Anna Foerster seems well aware that the talky bits in the Underworld universe are best served in small doses, and that gives the extended cast — which also includes Theo James as a good guy, Tobias Menzies as a bad guy, Lara Pulver as a vampire lady we’re not quite sure about, and (of course) the awesome Charles Dance emoting his way through some enjoyably colorful nonsense — ample time to beat the stuffing out of each other.
Unlike its sister franchise, Resident Evil (which is also getting a new installment this year), the Underworld movies have sort of painted themselves into a narrative corner. You won’t find anything here that actively advances the whole “werewolf/vampire war” mythology, but that’s just as well. We’re all here for the monsters and the mayhem. There’s nothing even remotely new in Underworld: Blood Wars, aside from the assertion that it moves pretty well (some of these flicks are pretty dry), knows precisely what sort of movie it is, and delivers a generous amount of action for the ticket price. Plus Kate Beckinsale is still on board, and that helps a lot. If the Underworld series has finally run out of steam in its fifth chapter, at least it goes out with a decent enough bang. Plus, they leave the ending open for another sequel. Don’t even act surprised.
Rating: 3 leather-bound burritos out of 5
Image: Screen Gems / Sony