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Film review: Underworld: Blood Wars offers more of the same action that fans of the franchise love

Review of Blood Wars, the latest in the Kate Beckinsale starring Underworld series of vampire movies.
Kate Beckinsale as Selene in Underworld: Blood Wars. Larry Horricks / CTMG / Sony Pictures
Kate Beckinsale as Selene in Underworld: Blood Wars. Larry Horricks / CTMG / Sony Pictures

Underworld: Blood Wars

Director: Anna Foerster

Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Charles Dance, Theo James, Lara Pulver

Three stars

Cinema audiences probably hit peak vampire obsession in 2010, when Eclipse, the third movie in The Twilight Saga, pulled in an impressive US$700million (Dh2.6billion) worldwide – a figure that neither of the franchise’s final two films quite managed to match.

The Underworld franchise has never reached quite the same heights of commercial success or fan devotion as the Twilight movies, which were based on the best-selling novels by Stephenie Meyer, though it fares respectably in terms of vampire franchise box office returns – as evidenced by the fact that Blood Wars, the fifth instalment, is released in the UAE on December 1. It has the advantage of not being Twilight, which was essentially a teen romance with added bite, the core audience for which was perhaps already getting too old for that kind of thing by the time latter instalments of the film series arrived.

Underworld, meanwhile, has delivered perfectly solid, if unremarkable, genre movies in its previous four instalments, in the process creating one of the genre’s most iconic characters since Dracula in the form of Kate Beckinsale’s vampire killer Selene. Even the third film, the 2009 prequel Rise of the Lycans, in which she appeared only in a brief cameo in archive footage, still delivered an entertaining undead romp. When she returned to pull on her leather catsuit for the fourth outing, 2012’s Awakening, and then signed up for a fifth and sixth, the franchise seemed to be going from strength to strength.

Blood Wars continues that trajectory. The movie sticks to its successful formula: if one fan-favourite character played by one English thespian has been killed off in previous episodes – Bill Nighy’s Viktor – simply give the similarly adored British actor Charles Dance’s character, Thomas, a bigger role.

Likewise, with previous love interest Scott Speedman out of the picture, step up Theo James (Divergent) to loyally support our heroine through her trials and tribulations.

Beckinsale’s vampires are still stuck in their seemingly endless war with the werewolves. Although the vampires remain the apparent “good guys”, with their 19th century, haute-couture casual wear and shiny-leather combat threads, they are still a conniving, Machiavellian bunch, meaning Selene is once again being hunted by both her lycan enemies and her own kind. Lara Pulver’s vampire elder Semira makes a particularly good job of playing traitorous Brutus in a ball gown, and adding a camp gravitas to a script that was always going to be secondary to the action sequences.

There’s nothing particularly new here, and some of the cod-mysticism thrown in to differentiate the movie from its predecessors is a little contrived (anyone interested in a pacifist commune of new-age, albino vampires, apparently lifted straight from the set of Game of Thrones, that live in some sort of arctic spa retreat and use immersion therapy as a means of transcending worlds? No?) but we’re not really here for an in-depth analysis of the mythology of the vampire in popular culture.

We’re here for a 90-minute bloodbath of vampire-on-lycan violence, moody shots of gothic buildings, desolate landscapes and unearthly skies, and, quite simply, Kate Beckinsale.

Blood Wars is unlikely to convert many new fans to the Underworld cause, but for the sizeable army of existing devotees, it delivers admirably on every front.

cnewbould@thenational.ae

Updated: November 30, 2016 04:00 AM

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