Movie Review: Underworld: Blood Wars

Prague locations liven up the fifth entry in the vampire and werewolf series

Underworld: Blood Wars
Directed by Anna Foerster
With Kate Beckinsale, Theo James, Tobias Menzies, Lara Pulver, Peter Andersson, Clementine Nicholson, Bradley James, Charles Dance

Czech locations are the main highlight of Underworld: Blood Wars, the fifth installment of the vampire and werewolf series that has been running since 2003. The films have all had a narrow appeal to a fan base that wants goth action in dark tight-fitting leather-like costumes matched with dense scripts filled with ponderous, stilted dialogue.

Kate Beckinsale is back as Selene, a “death dealer” who over the course of the series has changed from being a plain vampire into being a powerful vampire/Corvinus-strain hybrid. As you can see, the film series has a lot of made-up jargon, and if you aren't familiar with it by now this film is a lost cause.

The mythology of the series is quite complex and has been extensively developed over the previous four series entries. Seeing the others is almost essential.

Selene, who has been around for many centuries, now has a daughter named Eve, a unique genetic hybrid that everyone seems to want to get, as her blood can change the entire plot. Selene has been in every film in the series except Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, which she just narrates.

Drinking other people's blood transfers some of that person's powers and memories. The Lycan leader, Marius (Tobias Menzies), in particular want Eve's blood to increase his powers. Lycans are werewolves, and there is centuries-long conflict between the groups. Eve's blood could be the tipping point in the war. Eve is hidden away someplace for her safety, and finding her is a main plot point.

Selene has become an outcast from both sides, and is on the run from vampires and werewolves alike at the start of Underworld: Blood Wars. Her sole ally is David (Theo James), a fellow vampire who has also become a hybrid. She saved his life in a previous episode.

The film opens with a high-speed chase along Prague's Náplavka. Other places in Prague include streets near Prague Castle and Strahov including Loretánské náměstí, and the main train station, Praha hlavní nádraží. Some of the tunnels seem to be in the Old Wastewater Treatment Plant in Bubeneč, which has been in many films shot in Prague.

The vampire stronghold is Hluboká Castle in South Moravia. It was in real life once owned by the Schwarzenberg family and was also featured in Shanghai Knights.

The Lycans are much lower class and have their hangout at the abandoned rail yard at Nákladové nádraží Žižkov in Prague 3. Of course, in the film these places all have ponderous-sounding names that mean something to fans of the franchise. They are also placed in a mythical geography. Hluboká Castle is not just around the corner from Loretánské náměstí.

There is some Machiavellian double-dealing going on among the vampires, with a woman for the first time elected to some sort of vampire grand council. Semira (Lara Pulver) rocks a bizarre pointy hairdo, and nobody with one of these can ever be trusted. She is also after blood to increase her powers, and is aided by a dimwitted, submissive pretty boy named Varga (Bradley James).

The series has had a number of fine actors over the years. Charles Dance appears for the second time as Thomas, an elder of the vampires. He adds a touch of class to the campy proceedings. He seems to enjoy offbeat roles, as he was recently in the comic horror film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, though his career also includes the Czech-British aviation film Dark Blue World. He has a role in the series Game of Thrones, as does Tobias Menzies, who plays the Lycan leader.

Several local actors also appear in minor roles. Brian Caspe, who was recently in Anthropoid, appears as a vampire council member named Hajna. Others appear among the hordes of vampires and werewolves in the battle and crowd scenes.

The trailer for the film caused a bit of a stir, as the usually black-clad raven-haired Selene was sporting blonde highlights and wearing a beige fur-trimmed jacket. “Impossible,” a voice in the film advertisement says. The fashion change in fact does turn out to be one of the major plot developments in the film, and sets up the possibility for yet another installment.

This film is the first in the series to have a female director. Anna Foerster had previously directed for television and has extensive cinematography and visual effects credits. The film is certainly competent, if a bit brisk in its pace. There is little pause between action scenes. This helps to cover up the sometimes awkward and pompous dialogue about the history of the vampire clan and the aspirations of the Lycans.

The action scenes get a but frustrating, though. Both sides use automatic weapons to shoot endless amounts of bullets that seem to have no effect at all. Some scenes have people with swords and shields fighting opponents armed with machine guns and what looks like an anti-aircraft or anti-tank gun. The swords prove more effective.

But the film in the end achieves its major goals of moving the byzantine plot forward and providing fans with their triennial fix of goth action. Even people who aren't fans may enjoy spotting the Prague locations among all of the horror campiness.

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