In the next installment of the blockbuster franchise, UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS follows Vampire death dealer, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) as she fends off brutal attacks from both the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her. With her only allies, David (Theo James) and his father Thomas (Charles Dance), she must stop the eternal war between Lycans and Vampires, even if it means she has to make the ultimate sacrifice.
At this point in the still-apparently-popular vampire saga, do moviegoers really require a brief recap of the events leading up to Underworld: Blood Wars? As the fifth installment of the millennia-long battle between the stylishly gothic undead and the wooly, uncouth werewolf pack, it's highly unlikely the remaining fanbase still willing to pay for this horror-fantasy soap-opera would have forgotten where the last sequel left off. Granted, the opening voiceover minutes with Kate Beckinsale's death-dealing Selene recalling the history of vampires versus Lycans is a signature style of the franchise, though it is the furthest from original, as seen in the equally long-running Resident Evil series. But the question is whether it's any longer necessary. Admittedly, I don't recall most of what happened in Awakening, so those "Previously on . . ." opening minutes were helpful. Ironically, the intro also quickly establishes a new setup that essentially asks viewers to forget most of the third sequel, except for a few cursory but still crucial notes to explain this entry's whole purpose for existing.
Reprising her role as the infamous Death Dealer responsible for killing hundreds of Lycans, Beckinsale explains that fans should pretty much give up on ever seen Michael Corvin — you now, the very reason for this franchise's creation — alive. Not for anything that makes logical sense, but because producers need a convenient excuse for Scott Speedman refusing to return to the franchise. After the first sequel, the actor decided to finally lay the character to rest six feet under, but the filmmakers cleverly exhumed him from his grave by keeping him in cryogenic sleep while introducing the unnatural couple's love child, Eve (India Eisley), who is also momentarily placed in her coffin for this slapdash continuation. But all that is neither here nor there because the only thing needed for resuscitating the series and keeping it from dying is Selene's magical blood, which now grants the lucky drinkers the ability to enjoy the warmth of sunrise. One such lucky bloodsucker is the ominously-named David (Theo James), setting up the crux of the movie's central plot and the not-so-subtle meaning behind the title.
Our beautiful undead Selene is being pursued by both vamps and howlers this time around. No, wait! Isn't that same plot of every Underworld movie, including the second sequel prequel where a Beckinsale lookalike is also hunted for her Romeo & Juliet romance with the family pet? So, we're basically watching the same recycled plot reshaped into another battle where crystal-blue eyes stand in between two warring clans. Thankfully, Selene and David's budding relationship stays in the friend zone where it belongs. But the ruthlessly power-hungry Semira (Lara Pulver) wants to drive a stake in between them by pretending to hire the pair to train an army of bloodsuckers against a large pack of shaggy, grubby dogs, led by Game of Thrones star Tobias Menzies. Given all the melodrama, backstabbing and underhanded dealings throughout, I'm surprised the villains didn't pass each other notes to learn they want the same thing.
Of course, logic or a reasonably entertaining narrative in something like Underworld: Blood Wars is probably the last thought in the minds of the filmmakers. Or even the audience, for that matter. These types of movies are not made for pushing the envelope. They are purely meant for satisfying the lovers of dark fantasy who want to see vampire and werewolves duke it out. In that respect, cinematographer-turned-director Anna Foerster delivers the bloodletting fans are craving in more ways than one. Literally, there is a scene where Selene is being drained of her blood and another where we find out a werewolf has been juicing on hybrid blood because it's a cure-all against either clan's weakness. Selene and her daughter are in very high demand as the preferred drug of choice among the creatures of the night. Sadly, in spite of this mildly interesting twist to the franchise, the whole affair is more likely to put viewers into a deep slumber in the nearest grave than it is in resuscitating this pulse-challenged series.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings Underworld: Blood Wars to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc and housed inside a blue, eco-elite case with a flyer for an UltraViolet Digital Copy and glossy slipcover. After several skippable trailers at startup, viewers are taken to a static menu screen with the standard set of options along the bottom and music in the background.
The fifth installment to the sexy gothic vampire franchise shows itself to the light of day with a superb, near-reference 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, making it the best looking one in the series. The stylized photography bathes the entire screen with dark, sinister shadows that penetrate deep in the screen while still revealing the finer details in the darkest portions. The black in the clothing, latex outfits, luxury cars and various furniture come with a haunting, stygian shine from beginning to end. Although contrast is heavily subdued, whites nonetheless brilliantly glow, and visibility into the far distance remains excellent in every scene. There is very little color to speak of in this deliberately dour and gloomy movie, but there are several flashes of bright, electrifying blues and the scarlet reds of blood while gunfire and explosions add fiery blazes of orange.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the freshly-minted digital transfer displays razor-sharp lines in Semira's baroque house, the elaborate gothic furniture and the shiny, sterile gym where young vamps train to fight. In fact, while Semira's coven is clean and tidy without the slightest sign of dirt, the cold stone dwellings of the Nordic coven feel grimy and dank because we can see moisture running down the pockmarked, fractured walls. Semira also wears highly ornate clothing where we can see the intricate details, jewelry, and ultra-fine threading, but in Selene's tight latex suit, we see the tiny wrinkles and creases as she walks. With excellent, revealing facial complexions, the overall presentation is genuinely beautiful to watch.
Interestingly, the sound design for Blood Wars was originally recorded for Dolby Atmos, but Sony has equipped the Blu-ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack while Ultra HD owners are given the option to enjoy the object-based format.
On the other hand, this version sounds absolutely amazing, filling the entire room with a variety of noise and activity from start to finish. I doubt fans will have little to complain about, as the clap of thunder is distinctly heard in the distance, the growls of Lycans invading the coven echo all around, and a barrage of bullets fly in every direction. The rears are consistently employed with the subtle atmospherics of wind blowing through caves, the chatter of other undead guests or the howling of wolves, creating a highly satisfying and immersive 360° soundfield.
The action is also equally spread across all three front channels where lots of background activity and movement provides the movie with engaging, spacious presence. Vocals are not only well-prioritized and distinct, but many conversations move convincingly off-screen, adding to the design impressive sense of space. The mid-range is extensive and incredibly dynamic, exhibiting crisp, sharp detailing during the loudest, most ear-piercingly chaotic moments. And like others installments in the series, this fifth entry arrives with a thunderous, wall-rattling low-end, providing each gunshot, explosion, punch and the stomp of a Lycan's paw a heavy, potent feel. With a couple moments here and there reaching the ultra-low depths, this DTS-HD track is a monster that won't be caged.
The Official Graphic Novel (HD): As suspected, this a graphic novel version of the movie where users can flip through the pages via their remote cursors.
Building a Blood War (HD, 12 min): The standard EPK-like piece detailing the production, its design and place in the franchise, featuring cast & crew interviews with lots of BTS footage.
The Evolution of Selene (HD, 8 min): A history on the character throughout the series.
Old & New Blood (HD, 6 min): A closer look and discussion on the new vamps.
The Evil Evolved (HD, 6 min): Much of the same, only this time on the werewolf baddies.
Underworld: Blood Wars is the fifth installment to the horror-fantasy soap-opera series, detailing the millennia-long battle between the stylishly gothic undead and the wooly, uncouth werewolf pack. Continuing the saga of Kate Beckinsale's death-dealing Selene, the latest entry does not succeed in resuscitating this pulse-challenged series while also not sending it to its final grave. The Blu-ray bares its fangs with a top-notch audio and video presentation, but the supplements are pretty lackluster. Still, the overall package is enough for the remaining fanbase to sink their teeth into.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.