By John Mulderig
The sanguinary subtitle of the action-horror sequel “Underworld: Blood Wars” (Screen Gems) proves unpleasantly appropriate as the amount of butchery on screen eventually goes off the charts. By the time the film’s protagonist, in a climactic scene, uses her bare hands to rip the entire spine out of the back of one of her adversaries, the suitable audience for all of this slaughter has dwindled to nil.
Along the way to its grisly conclusion, director Anna Foerster’s fifth installment in a franchise that reaches back to 2003’s “Underworld” recounts the latest travails of recurring main character Selene (Kate Beckinsale). A skilled warrior now alienated from both sides in the long-standing conflict between her fellow vampires and a race of werewolves known as Lycans, Selene starts this chapter on the lam.
With the power of the Lycans waxing under the hard-driving leadership of new alpha wolf Marius (Tobias Menzies), however, the bloodsuckers need Selene — whose exploits have earned her the apparently coveted title Death Dealer — to train their raw recruits. So coven leader Semira (Lara Pulver) reaches out with an offer of amnesty for Selene’s perceived misdeeds of the past.
Since shifting loyalties and outright betrayals aplenty lie ahead, it’s just as well that Selene can count on at least two steady allies: influential elder Thomas (Charles Dance) and his son, David (Theo James). Not only is David a tenacious fighter, which is bound to come in handy, he also has a soft spot for Selene to help ensure his fidelity.
Along with potential romance, Selene’s pining for the absent daughter she was forced to send into hiding for the child’s own safety is meant to add an emotional dimension to the labored proceedings. It does no such thing.
The film contains occult themes, rampant gory violence, some of it gruesome, a scene of aberrant sexual behavior, semi-graphic marital lovemaking, partial nudity, a same-sex kiss, at least one rough term and a mild oath. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.