I have to admit to being a little bit torn about Underworld: Blood Wars. I think I've been in this limbo space long before the franchise's fifth (!!!) chapter of vampires vs. Lycan warfare, but it's more pronounced now than ever. These movies probably ran their course with Rise of the Lycans, the only one that didn't feature Kate Beckinsale's latex warrior, Selene, and have been treading water ever since. And while the storylines may not be offering much that's new, fans of the stylized action will find the violence worth sinking their teeth into.
Cutting a clear path away from 2012's Underworld: Awakening, which saw Selene given an all-powerful hybrid daughter named Eve, the opening minutes recap events from the first couple of movies, mostly ignoring what came later. We learn that Selene sent Eve away for her own protection, but really it feels like the franchise trying to get away from the one interesting development it has ever had. The problem is that what replaces it, an internal Vampire feud ala Game of Thrones, isn't nearly as compelling.
Selene, whose blood holds certain magical properties just like Eve and her royal colleague David (Theo James, who reluctantly returned to the series), is an outcast hunted by vampire and Lycan alike. Only now the Lycans are more organized than ever thanks to an unstoppable new leader named Marius (Tobias Menzies), who has them on the verge of wiping out the vampires forever. Marius' strength will look very familiar to long-time fans of these movies, and it'll probably give a clue where things are headed. Self-preservation, along with a desire to keep everyone away from her daughter, brings Selene back into the fold to train the next generation of Death Dealers, but she gets swept up in a blood feud that threatens to destroy them all from within. The greatest threat is the seductive High Council member, Semira (Lara Pulver), who desires greater power. Don't they all?
The vampire politics is probably the most boring yet prevalent aspect of these movies. Every single film has it, and you just wish they would get on with the fighting, which is always a strength. Taking over as director this time is Anna Foerster (an Outlander vet, just like Menzies) who continues the icy blue atmosphere and high body count of the previous chapters. If only they had attempted to do more with the Lycans, who barely ever turn into werewolves. Instead they look like a bunch of construction workers in flannel jackets firing machine guns at skinny Brits dressed like runway models. The action choreography is still gorgeous, with Beckinsale's Selene gliding through the battlefield with wondrous ease. Beckinsale's continued commitment to this role is one of the things that makes Underworld tough to hate. She could be doing much better things but it's clear she loves these movies, and invites her fans to love them, too. Others such as Charles Dance, Menzies, Pulver, Bradley James, and James Faulkner (again, all Brits!) lend a Shakespearean gravity to silly dialogue about blood, blood, and more blood.
Underworld: Blood Wars ends with a major character's apparent demise, and a perfect chance to close the books on these movies once and for all. But at least one more movie is teased at the same time, so this probably isn't the last we've seen of Selene. While Underworld's blood may have grown thin, as long as Beckinsale sticks around there will be one reason to see the Vampire/Lycan war continue.
Rating: 3 out of 5