Underworld is the mid-level franchise that could. It barely registers on the global pop culture landscape and critics have never been fond of its bloody action-horror offerings. But the formula keeps audiences coming back for more. 2012’s Underworld: Awakening, brought in over $160 million worldwide. Now, the fifth movie — Underworld: Blood Wars is set to hit cinemas on January 6, but even as someone who finds some guilty pleasure in these films, these days, I’m having trouble telling them apart. I can’t predict how this new film will perform, or if the series will continue, but is the formula getting a tad long in the fangs? How has it sustained since 2003? Let’s break that formula down to its most essential pieces and find out.
Blue, blue, blue. I get that these movies have a signature look, but this is one element of the formula that needs a stake to the heart. It has spent too much time in gray-blue castles and blue-gray streets. Find a way to get these characters out of the dull moonlight and under some neon. Similarly, would it kill these movies to freshen up their costume and prop designs? It was cool for a good long while, but the leather is getting a bit tired.
It’s hard to believe now, but in 2003 there was still some novelty in seeing vampires and werewolves duking it out Matrix–style. It’s old hat now, but it’s still a crucial piece of the Underworld formula. They’ve got to stick around, even if they’re not the primary antagonists. Plus, the franchise’s commitment to rubber monster suits is one of the best things about it. There’s just one problem: part of the appeal of the first three films was seeing the war from both sides. Now, the Lycans have become the villains of the series. That ain’t right.
Selene and Kate Beckinsale
They’re the Ripley and Sigourney Weaver of Underworld. Without them, the franchise would need a drastic shift to survive. You certainly can’t have Selene without Kate Beckinsale. And at this point in the franchise, I’m not sure you can have Underworld without Selene. I just don’t think fans would be as eager to show up without her. The one film in the series without Selene featured a protagonist that could’ve been her stunt double, and it didn’t make as much money as the previous film.
While the role has never offered enough substance to allow Beckinsale a great dramatic performance, there’s something functionally perfect about seeing her in a black trenchcoat and boots, firing silver bullets at monsters. If the series were to continue without her, a female protagonist seems essential. But instead of trying to recapture whatever magic Beckinsale brings to Underworld, this franchise will need new magic.
For a while, it looked as if Underworld was gearing up for a handoff. The series could’ve gone to Theo James and India Eisley, who both appeared in Underworld: Awakening. James will appear again as a major supporting character in Blood Wars, but will he continue on to carry the series in future entries? I’m sure James has discussed that with the powers that be. But if Blood Wars debuts to lukewarm numbers, Underworld may need to reexamine its aging formula.
Underworld: Blood Wars arrives in U.S. theaters on January 6, 2017.