How Do Films Like Underworld: Blood Wars Keep Getting Made? Well, I May Be Part of the Problem

Our own Mark Conroy satirically posited on twitter recently that the real question wasn’t where the silent majority of Trump voters had come from, but rather who the hidden horde keeping the Underworld franchise cinematically viable were: you see, the series remains inexplicably profitable in the face of its utter invisibility in the wider pop-culture, and in its entirely perfunctory and indifferent panning by critics. I cannot provide an answer to this. I will freely admit that I did (with a certain giddiness) hand over legal tender to see this film, but at least I know why I’m there and what I want from these films. However, as to why everyone else was there – why this screening on a Sunday evening was almost full despite there being A Football of Some Import (apparently) simultaneously happening – well, it was disturbing to say the least. Especially since there was nary a chuckle (aside from the frequent snorts of unironic, delighted derision from myself and my compatriot in schlock) from this crowd of people who actively gave up their Sunday evening to pay to see this. Does this series have an actual, earnest fanbase? Are people so easily led by the lowest-common-denominator marketing this film appeals to? Or should we just chalk it up as another symptom of the world ceasing to make rational sense anymore?

In any case, we should park our armchair sociology and talk about Kate Beckinsale kicking things while wearing a leather bodice over a leather catsuit, occasionally while wearing a leather coat. Leather.

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In this fifth installment, the plot remains identical to all the previous Selene (Beckinsale) centered films in this series: she’s a stoic badass encased in so much plot armour (and PVC) that an actual arc can’t penetrate the film. For a variety of reasons she’ll end up becoming a nuisance in need of being disposed of, owing to stumbling onto the latest double/triple/quadruple cross, and will have to clear her name by killing both a villainous vampire and werewolf who are secretly in cahoots. All this while likely gaining some new upgrade or power along the way in order to beat the final boss du-jour. (In an exciting twist, her new power this time comes with new hair and a new coat, amusingly making the shock characters exclaim upon her return seem directed at the fact that this is the first time she’s changed her clothes in the past fourteen years.)

Beckinsale continues to bring just enough effort to her performance to not render the character as thoroughly vacuous as the films she appears in, and there is something kind of nice about the fact that this is basically her franchise now. In fact, she willingly returned for this entry when it was intended to be a pseudo-reboot, presumably focusing on The Son of Dance (whose name, like his character, is uninteresting and forgettable.) Yes, Charles Dance takes up the Bill Nighy role of acclaimed, older British actor giving a fun cameo in ‘One of These’. While Lara Pulver continues to shine as the actor you cast when you know Eva Green will say no. They both have fun with what little they have and Pulver in particular is quite happy to get on-board with the film’s campy pantomime theatrics. The action ranges from the dull, to serviceable, to fun, but between the invulnerability of the characters and the stark colour scheme, it becomes a sort of bloody, hypnotic ballet of visual sterility.

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Underworld: Blood Wars. Source

But friends, the editing. Oh the editing. One struggles to recall an example of a film so artlessly edited to such an impressively and thoroughly damaging degree. The almost robot-like pragmatism of the effort, presumably in the name of hacking the running time to the bone and then some, starts off merely annoying but grows in absurdity until it’s bordering on the outright comedic. Entire conversations pass in seconds, seemingly switching topics at random, with every frame not containing dialogue removed, giving the film that uncanny quality you get when watching something at 1.5 times speed, but with the dialogue here still happening at a regular pace. Actors’ faces become redundant: the hack-job denies us any expressive acting not containing something verbal, and the dialogue ceases to resemble anything approaching what we know as human conversation. This is to say nothing of the nosebleed-inducing sprint for the credits the movie embarks on with the final montage it hard-cuts into once the villains have been – abruptly, nonsensically and hilariously – dispatched.

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I can’t pretend this is good. But I also can’t deny that I had a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying time. It’s unclear what that says about me or the medium as a whole, but for context: in a screening of Silence the other week, I counted thirteen walkouts. Not only did no one walk out of this (a genuine black mark against our species), one man even seemed to stay until after the credits.

It’s hard to recommend despite how good a time I had, however it may be worth it for you if (amongst other things):

–        You enjoy seeing a film attempt to continue its inexplicably dense mythology with bad soap-opera level twists regarding characters’ lineage. This happens while having so few named characters left that haven’t been killed that the film is essentially pointing at a glorified extra from the first installment and expecting their sudden relevance to be dramatically weighty.

–          You can be enthralled by action scenes so poorly conceived (“they have shields, let’s continue firing fruitlessly”, “they’re vulnerable and we have them surrounded, let us continue to not shoot at them for no earthly reason”), that their bizarre logic and abrupt ends are their own form of comedy.

–          Sudden, visceral, and very jarring gore does it for you. Want to watch Kate Beckinsale ineffectually shoot a man for several straight minutes before deciding the action scene has reached a sufficient length and so suddenly, and with great ease, just tear out the villain’s entire spinal column with one hand?

We can only pray that this train of January-based cinematic detritus which Sony and Screen Gems have loosed on us doesn’t lose steam, and that their next stop in a couple weeks at Resident Evil station proves as deliriously, majestically and utterly pants.

Underworld: Blood Wars is in cinemas now (apparently)

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