Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Underworld franchise keeps sucking in Blood Wars

Photo: Sony Pictures

Five movies in, the Underworld series—the day-for-night soap opera to Resident Evil’s pulp anthology—remains humorlessly committed to the eternal conflict between high-tech, goth-industrial Draculoids and their grungy werewolf foes, soldiering on with its post-Matrix aesthetic of pleather catsuits, submachine guns, and floor-length coats with way too many buckles. Too rote to be trash, it has to make do with being mere junk, impatiently exposing more incoherent machinations and more condo-board-like council meetings involving the dullest vampires in moviedom. Written by Cory Goodman (Priest, The Last Witch Hunter) and directed with sort-of-competence by the longtime Roland Emmerich associate Anna Foerster, the new, generically titled Underworld: Blood Wars is everything an entry in this notoriously interchangeable series is supposed to be, though anyone expecting it to be good has walked into the wrong theater. It has murky werewolf-on-vampire action, dialogue that sounds lifted from a dubbed early ’60s Italian Hercules movie (“What news of the search?”), and it’s over in about an hour-and-a-half. At this point, that’s the best viewers can hope for.


Coming off a long overdue reunion with Whit Stillman in the Jane Austen adaptation Love & Friendship, Kate Beckinsale returns here to the role that has been wasting her gifts as a comic actor for going on 14 years: Selene, glorified booth babe to a franchise that likes nothing more than to yammer on about the specs of its backstory. The dialogue is about 90 percent exposition, delivered in a rush that’s made all the stranger by the complete absence of human characters. Once again, the skin-tight-outfit-wearing former “elite soldier in the vampire army” is stuck in the middle of the centuries-long war between bloodsuckers and werewolves (or “Lycans,” in the film’s goofy parlance) for reasons that Blood Wars explains several times over, but never very well. (They involve vampire-werewolf hybrids, the eternal taboo of vampire-werewolf sex, and Selene’s daughter.) The vampires of Underworld are stubby-fanged technocrats who seem to spend all of their nights conspiring against each other, cleaning guns, and talking about Lycans.

The Lycans all look like they need baths and can transform into 9-foot-tall wolf-creatures at will. This inevitably leaves them naked, though the films have sworn to protect their modesty by making each Lycan also sprout a lengthy pubic beard that sways over their distended werewolf dicks like the sporran on the front of a Scotsman’s kilt. They fight each other, the nude Lycans and the fetish-wear-clad vampires, with silver swords and “ultraviolet bullets,” in tunnels and strongholds that all look alike: concrete-walled, smoky, severely underlit, filtered into cold tones. Foerster—who started out filming special effects miniatures for Independence Day, working her way up to second-unit director and eventually cinematographer—doesn’t do anything to distinguish the film visually from its four predecessors, aside from dialing down the green tint. Ever since the original Underworld hit theaters back in 2003, the two sides have been stuck in a Groundhog Day loop, cursed to repeat the same action set-piece over and over in every film.


Framed by the scheming Semira (Lara Pulver, approximating a bargain-priced Eva Green) back at the vampire headquarters in Budapest, Selene travels with clan scion David (Theo James) to a secret community of Valkyrie-looking peaceniks. There are artifacts to retrieve, flashbacks to be had, and Lycans to deal with, led by Marius (Tobias Menzies), a werewolf who shoots up vampire blood, adding some heroin imagery to the series’ palette. The stated goal, as always, is to put an end to the conflict between the two sides. But if they weren’t trying to kill Lycans, what would the vampires do? The Underworld series has always been exhaustively unimaginative and literal-minded, resistant to the idea of vampires and werewolves as metaphors or seductive figures. The closest thing it has to subtext is accidental; fixated on undead politics, strict rules, and firearm maintenance, it suggests, just maybe, that being a vampire is a lot more tedious than it’s cracked up to be.

Share This Story