Saturday, 27 May 2017

Underworld: Blood Wars

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, and Charles Dance

Director: Anna Foerster

91 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.40:1
Sony blu-ray region ABC
[Released 29 May]

Rating: 7/10
Review by Christopher Geary

“Don’t think... you’ll hurt yourself.” This fantasy action movie rattles along without pause for much ponderous horror, but Underworld: Blood Wars still offers a highly effective showcase for various gothic a-go-go riffs on the bloody legacy of a battle against beasts within. Following Underworld (2003), Underworld: Evolution (2006), prequel Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans (2009), and previous instalment Underworld Awakening (2012), this is the first of this franchise to be directed by a woman. However, the milieu of vampire-superheroine death dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) looks pretty much the same. Selene is invited back into the coven, where she is betrayed yet again by one of the council.

As a vampire elder, Charles Dance brings gravitas to this movie’s first act, setting up the premise of a new Lycan leader Marius (Tobias Menzies) who wants to end the feudal war, but only with full victory against the vampires, not a peaceful resolution to the seemingly eternal conflict. Sub-plots about festering revenge and unanticipated discoveries a propos the gloomy future of vampirism keep everything ticking over, until the final battles with a pivotal duel. Eventually finding refuge in the frozen north, Selene soon finds that her kind have mutated beyond death into more wraith-like creatures.   

Facing up to revolutionary challenges and the evolutionary changes of techno-modernity, as the 21st century’s science results in weaponised silver and UV light, Underworld has a lively narrative about struggles to maintain order, uphold and honour the ancient familial traditions, and explore the ramifications of a magical yet synthesised mythology. As ever for this genre franchise, and others like it, what makes the movie work as entertainment is the production’s seamless combinations of live-action stunts and photo-real animation (PRA) effects. It’s never difficult to accept the otherworldly qualities of this stylised action  adventure because the polished visuals maintain a superb standard throughout.    

Of course, it would also be easy to view this on-going storyline as a metaphor of class war, with vampires as wealthy overlords - favouring swordfights, and werewolves as the beastly proles - armed with machine-guns like army grunts. Allegorical interpretations aside, twisty plot elements converge on the final conflict where sunlight not moonlight might be decisive, but it is enemy memories derived from blood-tasting that reveals all the secrets and lies. So, in the end, blood will out, one way or another.

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