I kind of like Len Wiseman's 2003 thriller Underworld, with its slick, comic-book visuals and icy performance from lead Kate Beckinsale. It arrived just before a vampire renaissance, and is a lot cooler than most of the imitators that followed. Three sequels later, we arrive at Underworld: Blood Wars, a film that easily could pass as a direct-to-video effort. The law of diminishing returns rears its ugly head in this dull, poorly shot and creatively bankrupt film. Beckinsale is back as vampire assassin Selene, who is now hunted by both the vampire and werewolf leaders due to events in previous films. Selene sent her daughter Eve away to keep her safe, as the girl is the first perfect hybrid of vampire and werewolf, and both sides want to capture the girl and harvest her blood. With its relatively shoestring $35-million budget, Underworld: Blood Wars is anything but epic, and is a depressingly shallow follow-up that is beyond late to the party.
If you are unsure of the backstory here, Blood Wars opens with a helpful, succinct recap of the franchise's story so far. That said, movies that begin with such literal summaries are rarely any good. Writing this review may be a bit difficult, as I had a very hard time staying awake during these dreadful 91 minutes. If nothing else, this kind of horror-action film should be entertaining. Blood Wars beats its audience into submission with generic action and vampire mythology babble, but it is far from entertaining. Even poor Beckinsale, who has not aged a day since the original, looks bored as hell. I hope she got paid handsomely for this crap, and I was shocked to read creator Wiseman has promised more sequels. I'll pass, buddy.
Anyway, the Lycans want Eve for her blood, as do the vampires, who are also pissed that Selene killed a bunch of their elders. She is nevertheless granted safe passage to a coven, but duplicitous vampire Semira (Lara Pulver) plans to steal her blood and secrets. Semira murders a bunch of recruits that Selene is training, and Selene and ally David (Theo James) escape to a frigid Nordic Coven to hunker down and fight for their lives. There really is not much story here, and at times it is difficult to tell what is causing characters to act in certain ways. The entire film feels like an unnecessary continuation to a story that should have been concluded long ago. Selene does gain a new set of powers, which gives the movie a bit of spark, but that comes far too late to save it from the dregs of late-night cable.
Unlike the original, which felt fresh and exciting, Blood Wars feels purposeless and repetitive. The filmmakers obviously had to cut corners with such a low budget, and the stunts and sets both suffer from a lack of scale and creativity. Earlier films tried to create a deep mythology (as least in the scope of an action franchise) and Blood Wars struggles to effectively utilize that foundation. It is at once incredibly shallow and unnecessarily convoluted, and will likely find an audience that no longer cares about these characters. That about sums up my feelings on Blood Wars as a whole. The film is unnecessary, and I never cared about a single character or plot point. This lack of purpose is truly the stake through the franchise's aging heart.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image comes from a digital source, and it looks expectedly fantastic. The franchise's typical grey-blue color scheme is back early on, though things open up to brighter snow whites in the climax. Detail is fantastic, as is texture, which is not always a good thing for the cheap sets and crappy effects. The film looks great in motion, and never appears overly digital or smeary, even in quick pans. Black levels are usually good, and black crush is kept to a minimum. I noticed very slight banding, but this image is otherwise impressive.
Although the standard Blu-ray only has a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, it is no slouch. This track is absolutely immersive, with an incredible amount of directional effects. The frenetic fight scenes literally surround the viewer, and ambient noise, like rain and crowd noise, feels authentic and nuanced. All elements are mixed appropriately, and the track does not have a hint of distortion. You also get a French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix and English SDH and French subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in an Elite case and includes an UltraViolet HD digital copy. The case is wrapped in a flat slipcover. Extras include The Evolution of Selene (8:09/HD), about Beckinsale's character; Old and New Blood (6:15/HD), about the cast; The Evil Evolved (6:07/HD), about the villains; Building a Blood War (12:03/HD), which is basically an EPK-style making-of; and Underworld: Blood Wars Graphic Novel, which you can scroll through two pages at a time.
Fourteen years after the original Underworld we get this tired franchise installment, which brings nothing new to the series' mythology and lacks the entertainment factor of earlier films. Dodgy effects and a bored cast create an equally boring movie. Skip It.