FILM REVIEW: Underworld: Blood Wars
The vampire death-dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) has been hiding out from both her vampire brethren and their sworn enemies, the Lycans. When she is set upon by a Lycan gang, vampire friend and sidekick David (Theo James) helps her out of the sticky situation and drags her back into the centuries-old war. The vampire covens are clinging on at the edge of extinction thanks to a new wave of Lycan attacks. Both vampires and Lycans have new leaders; Semira (Lara Pulver) has the new seat on the vampire council and Marius (Tobias Menzies) is getting the Lycans organised. Both of them have got plans in mind for Selene.
For anyone who may have forgotten where we're up to in the surprisingly long-running series, there's a handy little prologue which covers all the salient points. As long as you've got a basic knowledge of who Selene has killed or loved in her time, you're probably going to be fine. The film also has a habit of reiterating any important points to make sure you can keep up.
Because keeping up is something you will have to do. There's a relentless pace to this film, one which fires you from plot point to vampire politics to Lycan mythology and then back out the other side. It's not really possible to dwell on any of the major silly moments because the film simply doesn't want you to. It also throws up plenty of twists, some more readily predictable than others, but there's enough surprise to keep you on the edge of guessing.
If the film has one big strength, it's in the action sequences, which have always been a highlight of the franchise. Director Anna Foerster cut her directing teeth on Outlander and Criminal Minds and acquits herself well on her feature film debut. The first set piece is a bit of a whirlwind of confusion, falling into the trap of not quite conveying where everyone involved is. However, as the film develops, the action sequences become more assured. The choreography is particularly inventive for the vampire characters, with all sorts of gymnastic leaping about, fencing, and gun play thrown in for good measure.
It's endearing how seriously everyone takes the silliness of Blood Wars. There's not one wink to camera, not one indication that anyone involved is rolling their eyes at having to come out with some of the more ridiculous lines. Beckinsale and James do a good job as the impossibly cheekboned heroes of the piece, but as ever, it seems like it's the villains who are having the most fun. Menzies puts on a growl of a voice that in any other franchise would stick out like a hammy sore thumb, but here it works. When Pulver carves her way through scenery with her cut-glass accent, it's done with absolute commitment. It's all completely daft, but it's all the more entertaining for it.
The Underworld franchise is one that knows its formula and knows how it works; Blood Wars wears its intention to conform on its sleeve, but has a blast doing it. Finding the balance between silly and entertaining is a notoriously tricky one to strike, but a blend of a cast in absolute sincerity and an enthusiastic but assured hand behind the camera ensures Blood Wars is a fitting continuation of the leather-clad series.