Underworld: Blood Wars inflicts some incoherent mayhem on Blu-ray for its fans.
The Production: 1/5
Underworld: Blood Wars is probably a reviewer-proof movie. It’s the fifth installment in a fairly successful series of vampire/werewolf bloody action pieces, and it’s made enough money that there will undoubtedly be another one inflicted before too long. That doesn’t make it a good movie – just something that clearly has a fan base that wants to see it. To my eye, it’s simply a lot of portentious dialogue and self-important posturing (usually backed by booming and somber scoring) followed by CGI creature morphs and copious bloodletting. The performers here are all very earnest, particularly Kate Beckinsale in the lead role of Selene and Charles Dance in an unfortunate cameo as a vampire elder. (This is one of those moments where the reviewer’s V-8 moment is accompanied by “What the heck is he doing in THIS movie?”) Director Anna Foerster tries to make the plot at least trackable for an average viewer, complete with some quick flashbacks to the goings-on of the prior movies, but this is all frankly incomprehensible unless you’ve been watching those earlier installments. If the movie has any redeeming quality to it past an appealing production design, that would be its limited 90 minute running time.
SPOILERS: This movie is the fourth one to follow Len Wiseman’s original 2003 sci-fi/action thriller featuring Beckinsale as Selene, a vampire “Death Dealer” at war with the Lycans (read: werewolves). As such, there are three full movies of plot developments with Selene as well as a prequel movie in which she cameoed. So there’s a lot of backstory before things even get started here – about Selene’s family, her lover, her daughter who is now somehow lost to her, and about how Selene and the other vampires relate or don’t with each other. Given how quickly the movie gets into the action, it’s hard to see how a new viewer would be able to absorb much of the backstory without getting hopelessly lost. So the movie tries to jump through that material and get right down to the killing, stabbing, impaling, frying and general mayhem.
MORE SPOILERS: The basic plot here has Selene rejoining her coven after spending years on the run from them, specifically to oppose yet another werewolf menace. Little does she know that the head vampiress is plotting against her, or that the Lycans’ evil leader is similarly plotting against her. Seems that everyone wants a bit of Selene’s blood for their own use. One quick cameo from Charles Dance later, followed by internal mayhem at the coven and Selene is once again on the run, this time to a Nordic coven where she may learn the secrets of the frozen dead, or something along those lines. Except that trouble, as always follows her up to the North, more mayhem occurs and Selene pulls a full Obi-Wan (read: “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”) So we head back to the original coven for some more bloodshed, mayhem and portentious dialogue, and then cap the whole thing off with an inexplicable and incomprehensible series of shots indicating that Selene may have found a new link to her daughter. Cue the end credits and pre-production for, well, another sequel.
SPOILERS NOW DONE. IT’S SAFE TO READ FROM HERE FORWARD: There’s really not much to recommend here in this movie, unless you’re already a fan of the series and/or of Kate Beckinsale. The script is pretty light and the direction here is nothing that impresses, to be honest. Director Anna Foerster is an experienced second unit and television director, having come from the effects house used by Roland Emmerich for his various disaster movies, including Independence Day in the 1990s and The Day After Tomorrow. Foerster is also an experienced director of photography, including Emmerich’s disastrous White House Down a few years back. I’ll allow that she at least tends to stage things in a clear manner, and the design of the movie is interesting to see – particularly the Nordic coven. But like Emmerich, everything she’s doing in her staging is geared to make a good looking surface with perhaps a bloody twist. That will get you a great shot like Independence Day’s iconic destruction of the White House, but it doesn’t help in finding any depth with story or character. On the other hand, fans of this franchise are not looking for those things – they just want to get on with the bloodletting and the mayhem.
Underworld: Blood Wars was released on Blu-ray and 4K on April 25th. The Blu-ray disc included in the 4K packaging comes with 4 featurettes and a digital graphic novel of the movie’s story. Instructions for downloading a digital copy of the movie are included on an insert in the packaging.
I should note that for this review, I am evaluating the Blu-ray, but not the 4K.
3D Rating: NA
Underworld: Blood Wars sports a 2.40:1 AVC transfer (avg 25 mbps) that looks spectacular. On a technical level, the movie has a lovely, dark gothic look that the HD transfer renders quite well. There’s plenty of deep blacks here, along with cold steel blue – and many dark shades that play well without all melting into each other. And yes, there’s plenty of red blood to go around. Again, where the design really gets interesting is in the white snow of the Nordic section, which really pops against the black and blue of the rest of the movie’s palette. The plentiful CGI in the movie comes across without being jarring, likely helped by the darker palette hiding the seams.
Underworld: Blood Wars is presented in an English DTS-HD MA mix (avg 2.1 mbps, going up to 3.1 mbps for the bigger moments). It’s a solid soundtrack, with the many gunfights and booming score moments blasting through the home theater with some force. There’s also a nice amount of use of the surrounds for atmospherics, particularly when the movie gets up to the Nordic climes. The Blu-ray also includes a French (albeit Canadian) DTS-HD MA 5.1 track.
Special Features: 2/5
The Blu-ray of Underworld: Blood Wars comes with four featurettes and a digital graphic novel.
The Evolution of Selene (8:09, 1080p) – This featurette focuses on Kate Beckinsale and her lead character in this series. The usual combination of film clips, on-set footage and mutually complimentary soundbites are put to work here.
Old & New Blood (6:15, 1080p) – This featurette discusses various returning and new characters. Some time is spent with Charles Dance, who deadpans about the seriousness of his character here.
The Evil Evolved (6:07, 1080p) – This featurette gets into various of the villains at work in this movie, both on the vampire and werewolf front.
Building a Blood War (12:03, 1080p) – This is a more general featurette about the production of the movie, as directed by the series’ first female director Anna Foerster.
Digital Graphic Novel – Selecting this option will open a separate area of the Blu-ray with its own menu for interacting with a digital comic book adaptation of the movie. The graphic novel comes from Darkstorm Comics and Kevin Grevioux. You can go through the graphic novel at your own pace, or with the disc automatically advancing through the pages.
Previews – A selection of new HD previews for Sony home releases is included in the menu.
Digital and Ultraviolet Copies – Instructions for obtaining digital and Ultraviolet copies of the movie are available on an insert in the packaging.
The film and special features are subtitled in English and French. The usual pop-up menu is present, along with a complete chapter menu.
Underworld: Blood Wars is a movie that really only will appeal to people who are already fans of this franchise. It’s the fifth movie in a series of these vampire/werewolf action jaunts, and it’s so top-heavy with its own plot accretions and its own self-importance that new viewers are likely to just be lost trying to follow it. (I’d frankly recommend the Peter Travers Rolling Stone review of the movie for its accuracy and its humor. Although fans will probably not like hearing that this franchise needs a stake through the heart…) Technically, this is a very good looking and sounding Blu-ray. The movie has a great design to it. Past that, there’s nothing I can find to recommend it unless you’re that compelled to watch vampires shooting werewolves.