(On Cable TV, August 2017) I thought that the fourth entry in the Underworld series was a promising step up—modern, relatively well-directed, with interesting action sequences and an interesting push in the future of the series. Unfortunately, fifth instalment Blood Wars is a return to worse form for an overwhelmingly dull series. While director Anna Foerster manages a few interesting images along the way, the script she’s using seems intent on stomping further on material than had become flat by the second movie. Vampires versus werewolves again?! Regrettably leaving behind recognizable urban landscapes in favour of increasingly fantasy-based locations, Blood Wars is either dull or silly depending on how much you care about the material. Shot in the same boring black-and-blue scheme, it has little to offer to set itself apart from its predecessor—although some of the Nordic snow-and-ice stuff is occasionally promising. Kate Beckinsale herself is noticeably older than in the archival footage shown from the previous films, but she can still rock a skin-tight bodysuit as well as anyone can. Elsewhere in the cast, only Lara Pulver makes an impression as a competing vampire—the rest of the characters are as interchangeable as they can be. Blood Wars doesn’t amount to much more than instantly disposable entertainment, but it has the distinction of being slightly above average for the series, somewhere around the first film but far better than the snooze-inducing second and third volumes. There will be another sequel, we’re told. I’ll watch it out of misplaced completionism, but won’t expect much.
(On TV, July 2015) I had skipped Underworld: Rise of the Lycans on account of being bored senseless by the first two installments of the Underworld series, but the fourth film was a step up, and I thought that the third film maybe could be closer to the fourth one’s quality. Alas, that’s not to be: This medieval prequel may actually be duller that the first two films, so lost in its own dull vampires-versus-werewolves mythology. It is, simply put, boring, dull, lifeless – and that’s not even mentioning the flat direction, monotonous color palette and meaningless plot. Even mere days after watching the film, I’m struggling to remember anything of note to mention. Rhonda Mitra is the same shape and color as Kate Beckinsale, but she can’t do anything to save this film from terminal pointlessness. Entirely useless, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans isn’t worth anyone’s time.
(On Cable TV, September 2012) After having trouble staying awake during the first two Underworld movies and skipping the third, I was a bit surprised to see that this fourth installment actually had some pep to it. After a prologue that demonstrates how ridiculously over-powered the heroine of the series has become (a lot like Resident Evil 4’s Alice, from the same
factory studio), Awakening seemingly take a bold narrative leap by skipping ahead 12 years and dealing audiences a new scenario in which humans have wizened up to the vampire/werewolf threat and are busy exterminating both. I say “seemingly” because not much actually changes in this near-future: Awakening is still shot in black-and-blue, Kate Beckinsale still wears the same form-fitting bodysuit and the fighting between wolves and fangs still becomes a bit repetitive. The addition of a daughter doesn’t do much after the first thirty minutes, and there’s a sense that plot-wise, the film sputters after a promising first act. Still, this series is about the fighting and there’s some effective work here and there by directors Mårlind & Stein. There’s a lot of mayhem on-screen, and some of it sticks. While Awakening overcomes its welcome even at less than 90 minutes, it’s not a complete loss. It may be a case of lowered expectations, but Awakening measures favorably against its often-dull predecessors in the same series, and action fans should see one of two good things in it.
(In theaters, January 2006) I like to start movie years with an indifferent film that resets my expectations for the next twelve months. Given that goal, I couldn’t have found better than this limp sequel to remind me of how ordinary movies can be. If you liked the first Underworld, this is pretty much the same thing: Vampires, werewolves, automatic weapons, a vague East-European setting (though less urban this time around) and Kate Beckinsale in tight clothes. On paper, it founds fabulous. On screen, though, it just doesn’t work. Despite Beckinsale’s form-hugging costumes, this film, like the first one, can’t be bothered to develop anything past banality: even the action scenes are dull. There’s a semi-neat five minutes at the end, but that’s about it. Fans of the first film (there are a few) will note how tightly this sequel integrated with its predecessor’s plot, but everyone else will spend half the film figuring out how’s who, who wants to kill who and, most importantly, why we should care. The flat bichromatic palette doesn’t help, and neither does the indifferent direction. The first film didn’t deserve a sequel, especially if it’s going to be a lackluster effort like this one. On the other hand, consider my movie-critic sensors properly calibrated for the rest of 2006.
(In theaters, September 2003) Let’s take care of one thing right away: Yes, Kate Beckinsale is quite fetching in a series of latex suits that look as if they’ve been poured on her. She’s adorable as a kitten as she slinks around in the dark, her damp hair highlighting her vampire-white face. Good. Alas, that’s almost the only thing worth contemplating at length in Underworld, one of the sorriest waste of potential yet seen this year. Every five minutes or so, the script, the design or the director shows some sign of promise, which is then buried under a mass of unremarkable normalcy. Blade and its sequel certainly proved that there was something fresh and exciting to be done with the vampire mythos; Underworld is even more disappointing as it finds nothing new to do with both vampires and werewolves. (Instead, we have people posing as vampires or werewolves) The movie certainly looks great if you only watch thirty seconds of it; the gothic design and the dark, quasi monochrome black-and-blue atmosphere gives it an interesting style. Problem is, it’s a one-note trick played during the film’s entire duration. There are no daylight scenes in the film, and this monotony eventually becomes tiresome. There are no reasons (beyond creative laziness, that it) why the palette of the film should be so limited. Eventually, it all blurs into nothingness. But far worse than the look are the characters, a bunch of indistinguishable Europeans with no singular characteristics. The villain is especially dull, and Beckinsale’s character herself isn’t much more than a shapely body with a latex coating: she never cracks a joke or even shows a hint of personality. The action is repetitive (guns, guns, guns and not very sexy guns either), once again failing in comparison with the Blade series. It’s not that Underworld is completely worthless; it’s just that it barely shows glimpses of something much, much better, hiding in the shadows.