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Film review - Underworld: Blood Wars needs a new lease of life

Kate Beckinsale returns for the fourth time as sexy leather-clad assassin vampire Selene, in a series that may be running out of steam

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 December, 2016, 4:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 December, 2016, 4:03pm

2½/5 stars

The covens reopen once again in the increasingly repetitive Underworld saga, dramatising the centuries-old turf war between vampires and Lycans, their werewolf rivals. Blood Wars is the fifth instalment in the long-running franchise, and the fourth to star Kate Beckinsale as death dealer Selene (part three being a prequel set hundreds of years earlier).

Following a brief recap of events thus far, Selene’s ostracised assassin is granted clemency by the vampire council, and returns home to train a new generation of warriors. Both vampires and Lycans are searching for Selene’s daughter Eve, the first ever pure-born hybrid, whose blood could be weaponised and used for world domination. With no knowledge of her daughter’s whereabouts, Selene has instead become their target, while David unearths a murderous coup within his own home that could tear the council apart. When she is inevitably betrayed once again, Selene flees north with David (Divergent’s Theo James) to a remote Nordic coven, only to face a newly mobilised Lycan army under the leadership of the formidable Marius (Tobias Menzies).

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The Underworld series understands that its core selling point remains the acrobatic Beckinsale in body-hugging leather. Twilight has inadvertently helped maintain interest in the vampire/werewolf rivalry, but five films in, the formula is reaching the sharp end of its claw.

More than anything, Blood Wars takes its cues from HBO’s fantasy behemoth Game of Thrones, aided in no small part by Charles Dance’s return as David’s father, Thomas. From exotic European locations and clan rivalries to power struggles within the upper echelons of aristocratic society, George R.R. Martin’s world casts a long shadow, albeit now armed with automatic weapons and UV bullets.

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Directed by Anna Foerster (TV’s Outlander), in her feature debut, the action uses plenty of martial arts and swordplay between the shoot-outs and fang fights, but characterisation barely expands beyond wardrobe or relationship status. For a plot propelled by lineage, legacy and parent-child relationships, Underworld remains a clinical, emotionless universe.

That said, Blood Wars is certainly a step up from its nonsensical predecessor, Awakening (2012), and there are some standout scenery-chewing performances, not least Lara Pulver as scheming seductress Semira. Finishing with yet another cliffhanger, this isn’t the end for Selene, but the series is in desperate need of new blood and more bite in order to survive much longer.

Underworld: Blood Wars opens on December 1

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