Anna Foerster makes her directorial debut with Underworld: Blood Wars, the fifth movie in the Underworld series. As the follow-up to 2012’s Underworld: Awakening, this 2016 motion picture hits the ground running and barrels through about 91 minutes of leather and latex.
The screenplay by Cory Goodman is stuffed with copious exposition, but none of the information grounds the viewer. It’s almost incorporeal, like the movie is concurrently floating through dark, wintry space and bowling down a highland highway without brakes.
Kate Beckinsale is Selene, the Death Dealer, and everybody wants her. The vampires are seeking revenge, with Semira (Lara Pulver) leading the Eastern Coven against the Lycans. And the Lycans want Selene, with Marius (Tobias Menzies) heading up his group of broad-shouldered dock workers against the goth gang.
There are all sorts of betrayals along the way and Selene doesn’t know who she can trust, which sends her into existential crisis. She pairs with hybrid David (Theo James), son of vampire elder Thomas (Charles Dance), and heads to the Nordic bloodsuckers’ mountain resort for refuge until all hell breaks loose.
While Underworld: Awakening held to themes of finding a new world and meeting new problems, Underworld: Blood Wars is ensconced in a kind of gothic futility. Selene has all the self-loathing of a teenager sketching out My Chemical Romance lyrics, with overcast murmurings of her daughter and lost loved ones rolling through her head.
Beckinsale plays this well, but the lack of humour makes Underworld: Blood Wars far drearier than it has any business being. It’s too bad, as the visuals present plenty of high camp prospects and the grimacing Death Dealer Alexia (Daisy Head) has some prized opportunities to go all out.
But Pulver’s wicked Semira steals the show, at least aesthetically. Her myriad of costume changes is stunning and her command of her minion Varga (Bradley James) has him dipping below the lace in concealed supplication. It’s theoretically rather fun, yet it somehow sinks into the same ashen gloom as the rest of the picture.
The battle between vampires and Lycans fuels the power dynamics, leading to a notable showdown that springs Selene back to the fore in all her frosted glory. There’s some solid action on the ice in one of the movie’s best scenes, as the Death Dealer battles Marius.
Cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub knows the Nordic highs and lows and contends with the series’ famous pallor, but the sense that things are hermetically sealed is hard to overcome. Sloppy editing makes several scenes wonky for the wrong reasons, like when a key revelation regarding David is turned comical due to profuse reaction shots.
Foerster’s effort fights itself to gain ground. It’s not without dark delights, but it’s hollow despite its speed. Even as the series has proven rather entertaining thus far, Underworld: Blood Wars lacks the sense and space to push past its own irrefutable mediocrity. In the end, it’s just kind of there.