Underworld: Blood Wars (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Underworld: Blood Wars (2017)

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The age of vampires is nearing its end.  Their oldest and deadliest enemies, the lycans, have all but eliminated the remains of vampire society.  New factions in both the vampire and lycan worlds begin a hunt for Selene, whose blood may be the key to ending the war.  Anna Foerster directs Underworld: Blood Wars, with the screenplay written by Cory Goodman, and stars Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, and Lara Pulver.

The Underworld franchise always made for an easy joke about the laziness of franchises due to its over-reliance on blue photography and lore-heavy dialogue.  When I watched Underworld: Evolution back in my theater days I was supremely grateful for a night vision goggle shot to fill the screen with green instead of the overwhelming blue.  Now, in 2017, the Underworld franchise has chugged along with different directors that hasn't made as complicated a web as the Mummy franchise, but still has its own prequel sequels followed by sequels to prequels to sequels.  Given my dislike of previous entries, and a near 15-year trail of films, I wasn't expecting much from Underworld: Blood Wars.

I wanted more.  Dammit, at the end of Blood Wars, I wanted more movie - which is the opposite of what I expected reading the most basic descriptions of Blood Wars.  The photography is as dark as ever, to the point where I needed to rewind a couple of times to figure out just what the hell was going on in some scenes.  The dialogue is similarly leaden, with grave tones imparting words of covens, different factions both overt and secretive vying for power, and Kate Beckinsale tasked with saving the day once more.

Darken your viewing area as much as you can before watching Blood Wars because it may be difficult to tell what's going on at times.

So why in the heck did Blood Wars end and I felt sadness that I had no more movie when the credits rolled?  Let's start at the top with the photography courtesy of Karl Walter Lindenlaub.  At this point, the Underworld aesthetic of dark palettes rooted almost entirely in blue is as much a calling card of the series as the over-the-top fights between lycans and vampires.  Once I accepted that, I started looking for the finer details of Lindenlaub's shots, and there are some spectacular moments.

There's a perfect visual representation of rigid hierarchy as a car carrying Selene (Beckinsale) and her protegé David (Theo James) through two posts of firm gates, which cuts swiftly to an outside entourage of vampires mirroring the firm posts, and on into the interior where even more vampires and columns form a direct path to the in-universe equivalent of a vampire throne.  It's impressive how many details he hides just out of view, like a standoff with Selene holding someone at gunpoint only for a quick pan to show someone having her at gunpoint followed by another pan showing David having the person who has Selene at gunpoint - at gunpoint.  Lindenlaub simply knows how to have fun with the visuals in Blood Wars that hasn't been present in previous entries.

I'm not sure how much I can defend the dialogue considering how much it's weighed down by in-universe lore, but Cory Goodman's screenplay keeps things moving at a zippy pitch.  We're reintroduced to Selene in one of many flashback exposition sequences (no less than four, and by the time the third rolled around I got a knowing chuckle out of their use instead of annoyance) and then a major plot beat hits every five to ten minutes.  It's like watching a season of Game of Thrones with all the aimless meandering cut out then edited solely to each betrayal or fight scene.  This might be tiring for some audience members but I found it thrilling as each participant goes from King to Pawn to Knight to taken off the board as quickly as it takes for Lindenlaub to pan to the next shot.

All this might have been too much but director Anna Foerster, who is the first woman to helm an Underworld entry, keeps the action tidy with fun subversive detours.  Vampires are forever intertwined with sexual desire and Foerster makes it plain that the desires of women will not be ignored this time around.  Semira (Lara Pulver) has an excellent moment where she looks into a mirror to imagine a pureblood future for herself and her reflection is bathed in the light she believes she can stand in one day.  It's refreshingly free of the male gaze, letting a woman luxuriate in her own powerful standing, and Foerster follows it up with an attention-grabbing shot of Semira forcing her male servant to go down on her.  The pleasure of women, curtailing the many desires of men, partially redeems the earlier entries' tendency to focus on Beckinsale's stretched leather clad body.

Lara Pulver is Blood Wars' secret weapon, modulating her performance from prim and proper respectability to vicious embrace of the kind of camp Eva Green usually traffics in.

Blood Wars isn't all sweet and dandy, as there are some unavoidable issues with representation when we're talking about the importance of pureblooded people.  There is little way to look at a predominantly white cast of characters fighting among themselves as to who is the most pure without an inherently racist subtext.  It'd be nice to get a bit more Blacula and a bit less Twilight (though I'm fans of both).  Plus, as much as the dark and blue aesthetic of Blood Wars has good shots, it feels like I need to invest in blackout curtains to tell what's going in with my home viewing.  I bring that up not as a specific plus or minus to you readers, as I'm sure the theater experience would be better, but if you rent it as well just be mindful of the background light in your home.

In the end, Blood Wars is a nice reminder that with the right cast and crew any old premise may be given fresh life though saddled with the baggage of earlier entries.  I won't go so far as to say I'm looking forward to the next film.  But if Foerster is back at the helm I'll be more than happy to give it a shot.

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Underworld: Blood Wars (2017)

Directed by Anna Foerster.
Screenplay written by Cory Goodman.
Starring Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, and Lara Pulver.

Posted by Andrew

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