Saturday, 3 December 2016

A First Look at Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)

As I recently wrote on Facebook, yesterday evening I went to the cinema to see the latest instalment in the Underworld franchise and as promised, I’m here to write my initial impressions. It’s a pretty rare occasion to be able to write a post like this, since hardly any werewolf movies are shown in cinemas around these parts (unless they’re part of a more-or-less known series like this one), so I’m pretty happy to be doing this. Also because I haven’t written anything in ages again, but I digress. Now, let’s get this show on the road!

(This is where the spoilers start, so in case anyone thought this would be spoiler-free, cease and desist right here and come back once you’ve seen the movie. Sorry! If you don’t mind being spoiled, though, keep on going.)

First off, if going to this movie you thought it was all over – well, for better or worse, it’s not. Contrary to what the trailers and promotional posters would lead you to believe, this does not seem to be the end of Selene’s tale. If you expected Blood Wars to end with some kind of resolution to the current plotline, then you’re in for a disappointment. The only “peace” that is achieved here is an internal peace among the remaining vampire covens and it very much seems like we are in for another sequel if this one sells well enough. The conflict with the Lycans, which is still the underlying reason for everything that has been happening for a while here, still hasn’t seen any lasting resolution after five movies. But let’s look at things one at a time.

So the basic premise of Blood Wars is this: Selene is still being hunted by both the vampires and the Lycans, but for different reasons – the vampire council wants her caught for her killing Victor and consorting with a Lycan/hybrid a.k.a. Michael, while the Lycans want her because they think she can lead them to her daughter, Eve, whose blood they ultimately want. Problem is, Selene doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know where her daughter is in order to ensure her safety. So why do the Lycans want Eve’s blood so badly? The overall motivation remains the same since the beginning of the franchise – they want their species to evolve (and I mean that as a plural, because they want both the Lycans and the vampires to do that), so that the bloody conflict between the two ‘bloodlines’ could come to an end. As it’s to be expected, the vampires do not want to hear any of this (even if it makes sense) and are bent on winning the war and ensuring the purity of the bloodlines at any cost.

When it comes to Selene, for most of the film she seems to be caught in the middle of all this wishing she could be left alone and in peace. I do kind of get where the writers are coming from with this – after learning that her whole life as a vampire had been based on a lie forged by Victor, becoming an outcast from her own coven, losing Michael and then technically losing her daughter as well, who wouldn’t become all mopey and resigned to their fate? She does recover from all this a little at the end, though, due to the events that transpire.

As we had already known for a while, Scott Speedman would not be reprising the role of Michael in any more Underworld movies, so the writers did the only good thing they could have done with his character, in my opinion, and got rid of him. Yes, in Blood Wars it’s finally confirmed that the Saga of Michael Corvin has come to an end. Seriously, it was high time we were done with Michael – for a while it looked like the writers didn’t know what to do with him, so it’s better this way. After all, since his introduction in Underworld: Awakening, David has been a much better sidekick for Selene than Michael ever was, in my opinion. But the hybrid saga does not end there, since now it seems we’re in the middle of the Eve Saga. While in Underworld it was all about getting to Michael and in Evolution everyone wanted him dead because of him being a hybrid, in Awakening and in Blood Wars it’s all about getting to Eve because she’s a hybrid. In other words, Selene can’t catch a break, because there’s always a person she has to protect.

Finally, I would like to touch on the subject of Lycans themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, we at last have a female Lycan! Like, they really exist. At least it seems so, because, disappointingly, we only get one and it’s for a few short scenes where not much happens and she’s not even given a proper name. So, uh, is that a yay? Yes? Maybe? I guess? But jokes aside… If I want to talk about the Lycans, I have to mention one more thing – if it wasn’t obvious already, it seems that since Awakening the Underworld series has become centred on Selene and the vampires to the point that we are encouraged to root for them. Now, this has become a problem for me, because the original Underworld as well as Rise of the Lycans provided us with a backstory of the vampires’ abuse of their sister race, which gave us a solid reason why some of us could root for them. While at the beginning the reason the Lycans wanted to create hybrids was closely tied to Lucian’s personal revenge on the vampires, now they strive to evolve and perfect their species to secure a lasting peace – of course, that would also mean they would become more powerful than the vampires – and, who knows, perhaps they would exact their revenge on the other faction by wiping them out (and can we really blame them?), but hey, nobody’s perfect. However, all their attempts at achieving this are thwarted in the end by Selene and David who eventually rejoin the Eastern Coven and actually become members of its leadership. In Awakening, Blood Wars (and even Evolution I would say) the franchise has been following a pattern that is quickly becoming predictable and mundane: the Lycans become organised and/or unified under a strong leader, try to evolve/perfect their species, but in order to do that they need something related to Selene and the vampires, so they attack her or the covens, initially it seems like they might actually succeed, but in the end are decimated by the vampires and everything returns to the status quo. And speaking of organisation, at one point Selene remarks that the Lycans are organised and have become a danger to the vampire covens because of a strong leader. She even states that “there has never been a Marius”, which should set off a red light in everyone’s who’s seen all the movies up to this point head, because have the characters already forgotten about Lucian? The last time the Lycans were competent enough to get something done was when they were led by Lucian. So saying there’s never been an (insert name here) is pretty ungrateful to the late Lucian’s memory. Ouch! Not to even mention another striking similarity between Lucian and Marius – the fact they were both romantically involved with members of the vampire coven, which was part of the reason they strived for the unification of the bloodlines, but that’s just a cherry on top. What I was getting at, however, is that in Blood Wars the trend continues, where it appears that the creators are trying very hard for us to root for the vampires only, because we know that whatever the Lycans do, in the end, they will fail.

All in all, Blood Wars is basically more of the same – vampires and werewolves still engage in bloody shoot-outs, the vampires hold out against the Lycans, whose plans inevitably fail, and the whole thing ends on another cliffhanger. I was really hoping that this would be the movie that would tie up the series and bring us a conclusion to the vampire-werewolf conflict, but that just wasn’t meant to be. While there are some good things about it, it just seems like another decent-but-nothing-special instalment in a franchise that probably should have ended already. The effects are okay (they’re pretty much the same as what we saw in Awakening), the music is pretty good, but at some points I thought the acting could have been a little bit better. For example, for the first few scenes after Thomas arrived at the vampire coven I got the impression that Charles Dance was delivering his lines into the air, because it seemed like he didn’t want to make eye contact with any of his supporting cast, but fortunately that soon changed. (I have to say, seeing him engage in a swordfight was one of my favourite moments of the movie.) There were also a couple of awkward scenes that could have been shortened or perhaps omitted altogether. It seemed like the good scenes, although there were many, always ended up being pulled down by the bad/awkward ones. It did seem to happen more at the beginning and towards the middle of the movie, though, and less towards the latter half, fortunately. We also seemed to get fewer Lycan wolf-form scenes than in the previous movies – the reasoning behind this being that the Lycans are paradoxically the weakest when in wolf form because they cannot use weapons and their judgement is clouded too much by bloodlust.

So what would be my verdict on Blood Wars? I would say this – it’s definitely not the worst movie you could go and see right now, but it’s also not the best. I’d say it falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum – it’s a decent action movie to watch if you’re into the monster genre and of course it’s worth seeing if you’ve been a fan of the series. Just don’t expect any fireworks. It could have been worse, but it could have also been better. We will see if the story will continue in time, but until I can whip up a full-fledged review once Blood Wars has come out on Blu-Ray, I will leave you with this.

This whole article is based on my personal opinion after all, so let me know what you thought about the movie in the comments! And if you’ve yet to go see it, I hope you enjoy it anyway regardless of what my impressions were (I mean, I enjoyed it, but not as much as I’d hoped to) – after all, we all like different things and that’s what makes us all awesome. In the meantime, I hope you all have a great day. Take care and I will see you next time!

P.S.

I am still planning on releasing those video reviews, it’s just taking a lot longer than I expected to get everything sorted…

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