Friday, January 6, 2017

Monster Team-up Reflection #33: I saw the Blood Wars of the Underworld...

Len Wiseman’s “Underworld” franchise is a crossover of vampire and werewolf lore (pitting the two sides against each other): a hybrid tale that's spawned actual hybrids in its story line. The saga is also a hybrid of the horror, superhero/action and historical genres: as much “X-Men” as it is “Penny Dreadful”, as much an espionage soap opera as it's a brutal allegory for any number of real life's civil conflicts. 

The latest "Underworld" is subtitled “Blood Wars” and is directed by Anna Foerster and written by Cory Goodman (based on a treatment by Goodman and Kyle Ward). It reflects all of the above elements and exists as both a sprawling rehash and a contemplative extrapolation. 

We again have Selene, the gun-toting, sword-swiping Death Dealer, portrayed by the magnetic Kate Beckinsale (who’s held the lead in all but one “Underworld” feature). Here she embarks on another mission to end the centuries-old bloodshed between Lycans and Vamps, and to complicate her situation, she's estranged from her bloodsucking clan. Alas, the odds for success are more daunting than ever, with the werewolf side inclined to create leveraging hybrids from the blood of Selene's missing daughter, Eve (India Eisley, featured via inserted imagery). 

Former chapter Vamps, the enterprising David (Theo "Divergent" James) and his perceptive dad, Thomas (Charles Dance), soon enlist the heroine to crush the Lycan campaign. Cool, persuasive Semira (Lara "Sherlock" Pulver) ensures Selene's amnesty so that she might mold a Vamp army against a large-scale, Lycan attack, but is this her true motive? 

New Lycan leader, Marius (Tobias Menzies) isn't at all intimidated by a Vamp counter, confident he can make his clan supreme (and perhaps a few deceitful Vamps along the way). He becomes a blaring thorn in Selene's side and will throw all her efforts asunder, unless the scales miraculously tip. 

It takes a spell to get to that pivotal point, however, with the film's bridging exchanges and moody scenery taking center stage. The story's main base, the Nordic Coven, consumes most of the film: a wintry realm, occasionally adorned by the series' usual, blue sheen and plenty of helpful, fair-haired citizens.  

The icy aura certainly complements Beckinsale's lovely, pale guise. As enchanting as Selene is in her previous outings, she shines to a far greater extent (if that can be believed) in this one, thanks to cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub's biting hues. Sometimes his technique makes Selene look more angelic than parasitic, but what the heck? Perhaps at this stage, our enticing lead is more the former than the latter...well, more a latex-clad, killer angel than a divine, winged one, anyway.

As Beckinsale's Elder "equivalent", Dance resumes his stately stance, even if still underused and--SPOILER--dispatched far too soon. Nonetheless, per his imposing Peter Cushing-esque stature, the actor can’t help but elevate the stakes. Let’s face it, this suave guy has imagi-movie clout. (He played the Phantom of the Opera in the NBC '90 mini-series for cryin' out loud, as well as having starred in “Alien 3”; “Dracula Untold”; “For Your Eyes Only”; "Game of Thrones"; “The Golden Child”; “Ironclad”; “The Last Action Hero”; “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”; and “Victor Frankenstein”. Now that's one impressive resume.) 

Without such classy casting (and incidentally, to some degree or another, everyone mirrors Dance's chic style), "Blood Wars" may have dwindled into another said-and-done quickie, but fortunately, the movie's personas, and the careful discussions that convey their causes, lead Wiseman’s mythology to a satisfying closure. On the other hand, there’s no reason why tribal animosity can’t rise again (and hints of an ongoing cycle do come by story's end), but if a continuation is to occur, it must manifest in the right context...

Imagine, if you will, a "Resident Evil" crossover...Selene and Alice soaring through the air, grabbing onto each other, twisting and turning until they spiral into a stretch of sensual mud, their feisty fight continuing as they rip each other’s clothing, clawing and gnawing each other's pallid flesh and...oh, sorry, got carried away, but considering the lusty prospect, can you blame me?

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