Next Monday sees the home entertainment release of Underworld Blood Wars, the fifth film in the ever-evolving franchise which has taken over $500million at the box office and spawned a number of multimedia spin offs. Our review of Blood Wars called it ‘the best in the series’ and there are plans for another film, with series figurehead Kate Beckinsale back as Selene. Underworld as a franchise has never been in better shape.
The turn of the century presented a number of challenges for movie studios. In the subsequent seventeen years we have seen many movie genres and their various tropes reborn for the twenty-first century. The Zombie movie has picked up the pace with 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland and the TV series Dead Set and The Walking Dead. Likewise the Vampire and Werewolves had a new day in the sun thanks to 30 Days of Night, the underrated Daybreakers and the cultural behemoth that was Twilight. On the furry side of things we’ve seen the likes of Dog Soldiers, the Ginger Snaps series and the wonderful Wolfcop. These monsters will continue to entice audiences into the cinema as the Underworld series is testament.
Like its zombie-infested step-sister the Underworld series has a lot in common with the Resident Evil films. The lone female protagonist standing between two worlds, the re-purposing of classic movie monsters for a new age, a frenetic and acrobatic style of action toast-racked with an involved ongoing mythology, even the strong (sometimes matrimonial) collaborative relationship between each film’s director and their star. Many of these elements have figured in making a success of both series. With a new dawn for the Underworld films we’re looking today at why they endure.
A keen visual style is of paramount importance to an ongoing cinematic saga. The dimly-lit, rain-soaked urban landscapes of the Underworld feature heavily in the series. Diving into battle from a high parapet, or tumbling mid-air over an ever-increasing body pile – the action sequences of the films have been hailed as highlights for the series. Modern cinematic technology has been of good use to the films, with slo-mo gymnastics giving a sense of awe to the hackneyed good vs evil battles. In 2012 the fourth film, Awakening, was released in 3D, bringing an extra layer of visual styling to the series. Blood Wars seems to have found a happy balance between the various skirmish iterations, and can be seen in broader terms as the result of many lessons learned.
Throughout the series the Death Dealers (specially trained vampire slayers – not slayers of vampires, but vampires who are slayers…) have used modern and medieval weaponry, shot with a gravity-be-damned propulsive style. The slow-motion action (silver bullet-time?) has become a trademark of the series, with many of the action sequences playing out in this fashion. The imprint of The Matrix films is laid heavily on the Underworld series. The balletic destruction, the flowing gunplay and leather-clad warriors have spawned a hardcore fanbase. They will no doubt be looking forward to diving back into the murky (under)world next week.
Originally conceived as a trilogy, the spring board of a centuries-old war between Lycans and Vampires provided the series the opportunity to create a deep mythology. Drawn around the character of Beckinsale’s Selene a whole host of hierarchies, betrayals, the purity and mixing of family bloodlines and so on has given the overall series a narrative context on which to continue building. What makes the films enjoyable to watch in a row is the personal revelations of the main characters. the devious machinations of the once-trusted, and the ensuing power plays which propel our main character through to some kind of enlightenment.
Finally a look back at the series will present the opportunity to engage again with some of the fun characters who inhabit the films’ world. Though Beckinsale carries the series, the emotional instability which the story necessitates leaves the field open for the more elaborate characters to thrive. Chief amongst them are Michael Sheen’s pristine pure-blooded Lycan Lucian, whose interactions with Selene and Bill Nighy’s vampire elder Viktor is aided greatly by the insistence the series has of taking itself way too seriously at times. Nighy himself puts in a ginormous performance as the 5th century warlord, turned by one of the first ever vampires to aid him in his battles against the werewolves. Forget protecting your neck – you’ll need to keep the scenery hidden when he’s on screen. Hell – even Derek Jacobi features in the second film as the first true immortal.
Those stylistics tenets are the reason fans across the world have fallen for the Underworld films. The gothic wash of the history-spanning battlefields, the kinetic (often ridiculous) action sequences, the deep dark forest of family trees, and the bevy of theatric roman candles which comprise the cast make this a fun series to revisit. And with only a matter of time before the Blood Wars continue – now’s your chance…
You can win a pair of tickets to an extra special screening of Underworld: Blood Wars in London on the 28th of May – click here to enter!
Underworld: Blood Wars is available now on digital download and on Blu-ray & DVD 29th May