Friday, January 6, 2017



"Where are the fans of Underworld?" I wondered, "Where are they hiding?". And I didn't mean just in looking at the empty seats left and right of me, but in the grand scope of things, who continues to demand Underworld films? The franchise has, prior to the release of Blood Wars, grossed nearly $500 million at the box office and sports five separate films and a series of anime spin-off shorts. Despite this, Underworld has exhibited nearly no social or cultural impact. It lacks the cultural significance of The Matrix Trilogy and the excessively dedicated fanbase of Resident Evil. And anything anyone ever felt about Wiseman's 2003 debut has vanished with time as the popularity of the "Matrix Clone" has dissipated. Whether positive or negative, people talk about The Matrix and Resident Evil. There's always a discussion to be had. No one talks about Underworld, and perhaps with good reason. The previous two franchises began as incredibly impassioned films from their respective creators and even the vapid original The Fast & The Furious had the soulful, misguided direction of Rob Cohen. Underworld's beginnings are so much more cynical, seemingly existing only to piggyback off the popularity of the wave of Matrix clones Screen Gems was pushing into theaters. Where Len Wiseman's films lack both passion and competence, so with Blood Wars it's nice to see someone actually giving a shit. 

Anna Foerster's direction isn't so much unwatchable (as one might expect from a veteran of a field as churlish as television) as it is totally baffling. Completely detached from any sense of contemporary cinematic language or even the revolutionary techniques of the series Underworld often imitates, under her direction, every scene becomes an action scene. The sing-song beat editing evident from the first motorcycle chase is transposed onto the scene of Semira and Vidar discussing the planned collection of power from beneath the elders seamlessly, and the entire film feels as if it's trying to squeeze into its ninety-minute runtime with issue. It moves swiftly through a series of quickly pasted together plot-points for the first hour as set-up for its climactic final two battles, one fought in a Vampire Stronghold in the Nordic region and another in the East, never missing a beat along the way. There's a handful of very exciting scenes whenever the film resorts to hand-to-hand combat and even more so during the final shootout. What's most refreshing for the Underworld universe is the introduction of some legitimately smart setpieces, including a scene where Lycans blow holes in the room during daytime while the Vampires weave in and out from under them.

What's most interesting, and also most destined to be ignored, is the character introduction of Semira. Who plays the narrative from behind the scenes the entire time. Consistently aware of trespasses against her but does not immediately exorcise them if there is something to be gained in the process. All true power comes from information, and Semira labels herself as a collector of such. A typical Matrix Clone posits itself as a hypermasculine symphony of violence, but leave it to a woman to have seriously learned a lesson from the Wachowskis.

Haydn DePriest is a student at the University of Texas at Austin. 

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