Blood Wars is the fifth instalment in the Underworld franchise, but what makes it special? Well, with the director being the first female to helm an Underworld film, that's about as new as it gets with this newest addition to the moody and bloody series. The question is, does director Anna Foerster reinvent the action wheel or doing anything creative to set Blood Wars apart from its predecessors? She doesn't, but Foerster does one thing well; she brings a sense of urgency and chaos to this fun, this is a more talkative Underworld film, even if it's not as thrilling as Awakening.
Kate Beckinsale is back as vampire death dealer Selene, who is on the run, hunted relentlessly. Her daughter is missing as is her half-Lycan lover Michael, she has nothing left. With vampire covens being destroyed by Lycan leader Marius and the mysterious Semira staging a coo within the only standing vampire stronghold, it's up to Selene to train a new army of death dealers in order to defeat Marius' forces before her entire species becomes a thing of the past. Five films in and there's not an awful lot that's new regarding the narrative, the humans know of the vampire and lycan species, and these two are waging an eternal war, a war that Selene wants to end once and for all. But what's actually fresh in this new film?
In Blood Wars, betrayal is the main theme, Selene has been cut off her from fellow death dealers and cast out, it's only when the Lycan threat increases that the coven welcome her back with open arms in a last ditch effort to save their species. Meanwhile Semira wants immortality and will sacrifice her own to get what she wants as well as endless, undefeatable power. The story is played out fast and loose, and at times the location hops back and forth too quickly, never allowing the feeling of getting fully established into the story.
As for the other problems, Blood Wars has some inconsistent sound design as well as some poor editing choices. The perfect example for off sound design is during a fight sequence in which Marius and Selene battle it out on the ice. Selene is thrown into a glacier, ice crunches and rocks tumble, then all of a sudden it goes silent, the sound of the howling winds, crumbling ice and snow flakes floating softly through the air seemingly disappear. This one instance is most obvious, and it occurs again mid-film when Selene visits Lena's coven and the Lycans attack. Instances where the room tones and impacts fizzle out without warning, such simple mistakes shouldn't occur in a film with a budget north of $30,000,000. As for the editing, director Anna Foerster is inconsistent with some of her final choices, as the first few action sequences feature very fast cuts, and whilst I could keep track of what was going on, the final battle is very focused and steady, this is inconsistent. These seemingly undecided editing and sound design choices stick out like a sore thumb.
When the sound design and editing works, it hits hard with surprising impact. I loved Beckinsale's narration and the opening flashbacks that take you back to all of the events in the previous films. For most moviegoers this is a cheap and lazy way of giving exposition, however, for a fan of the Underworld films like myself, reliving pivotal moments of the series in a short and snappy retelling left me smiling. The film then takes off with Selene on the run, and there was something I really appreciated within the first minute and that's the sound of Selene, who has up to this point been a powerful, fearless warrior, screaming at her hunters "LEAVE ME ALONE!". It echoes in such a haunting manner, to hear such a strong character scream in fear is rather eerie.
Sword fights are more prominent in this fifth entry, bringing back the brilliantly old fashioned style that Rise of The Lycans and Underworld Evolution featured. Theo James and Lara Pulver get an awesome sword fight sequence during the finale, one that ends with an incredibly violent yet satisfying comeuppance.
If anything, Underworld films deliver gory and snappy action beats, and Blood Wars is no exception, with easily the best final fight in the entire series. The Eastern coven is the tight setting for a huge-scale Lycan attack, Anna Foerster boasts assured direction even when the action onscreen is chaotic and out of control in the most fitting manner. Lycans charge through exploding doors, death dealers slice their swords and fire their weapons and the scale of this war is incredible. Of course, there's the highlight, spoiler alert, when Beckinsale's presumed dead Selene returns, looking fresh with blonde-tipped hair and a frosty Nordic overcoat, she stands tall as every Lycan and vampire pauses in silence, as did the cinema. Spines are ripped clean out of Lycan bodies and one relentlessly action packed moment sees Selene unload multiple machine gun pistols against her Lycan Marius, it's just epic and ridiculously good fun, also thumbs up to the gun training on Beckinsale's behalf.
Me and numerous other viewers exclaimed a dramatic "Oh damn", Beckinsale has this presence onscreen. She's a terrific, convincing action heroine, and even though she's actually got less screen time in this entry, she nails the steely, cold emotions that Selene bares and of course it's a joy to see the British actress don the black leather suit once again and sink her fangs into this next adventure.
Sherlock's Lara Pulver plays Semira and is clearly having a blast playing this deceitful and untrustworthy vampire. As a new member of the council, she is playing both sides in a quest to hold power over the coven. Pulver could have easily slipped into campy territory in playing this villain, much like Emily Blunt did in The Huntsman: Winter's War, but Pulver plays it sly and with confidence, making her first entrance into the Underworld films a memorable one. Theo James is given more to do this time around, more dialogue, more action and his character David is given a bit more backstory regarding his family heirs. James is a lot more intense this time, though his performance doesn't require him to really dig deep, something I think he deserves to truly shine, but that's another role for another time. Charles Dance, James Faulkner, Clementine Nicholson and Daisy Head are solid in their supporting roles, as is the cold and savage Tobias Menzies as Lycan leader Marius, though Bradley James is shoved to the sidelines.
This is a solid Underworld film, the visual aesthetic is ever-present and for fans of the series it's more than pleasing. All other viewers need not apply as it's more of the same. Awakening is still my favourite of the lot, with Rise of The Lycans shortly behind, I'd rate this third or fourth best. The action hits mostly, the performances are good and the musical score is a massive improvement over the crap heard in Awakening, though some questionable technical choices do cloud over the film in several parts.