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Underworld: Blood Wars

According to the monster movie mythology, sunlight and wooden stakes are sure-fire methods to end an immortal vampire's bloodthirsty reign of terror. The fanged fiends are impervious to bullets, merely throw a hissy fit at a crucifix or holy water, and are blessed with remarkable powers of self-healing. The Underworld film series, which chronicles the bitter war between vampires and lycans (werewolves), displays a similar resistance to death in the face of a relentless barrage of critical barbs. The fifth instalment in the saga, which marks the directorial debut of visual effects artist Anna Foerster, is another triumph of style over substance and comprehension. Blood Wars is punctuated by gravity-defying fight sequences, which showcase how sweetly lead actress Kate Beckinsale can shoehorn her lithe frame into a beautifully buffed PVC catsuit. A snappy opening credits montage, replete with breathy voiceover from the film's acrobatic heroine, neatly recaps the story so far for audiences, who had the good sense to avoid earlier chapters, but have inexplicably decided to try their luck at the fifth time of asking. Following the cataclysmic events of the 2012 film Underworld: Awakening, the lycans have amassed behind a single leader, Marius (Tobias Menzies), whose tactical genius has wiped out several vampire covens. The bloodsuckers are on the verge of extinction unless they can locate skilled warrior Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and her daughter Eve (India Eisley), whose blood contains the secret to creating powerful vampire-werewolf hybrids. Semira (Lara Pulver), a conniving member of the Eastern Coven, intends to seize power with the help of her hunky lover, Varga (Bradley James). She persuades vampire elder Thomas (Charles Dance) to grant Selene immunity so the outcast can return to the fold with her loyal protege, Thomas (Theo James), and train the vampire hordes in combat techniques to repel Marius' army. At a crucial juncture, Semira betrays Selene and Thomas, and the fugitives seek shelter with the Nordic Coven under the protection of vampire elder Vidar (Peter Andersson) and his enchanted daughter, Lena (Clementine Nicholson). Semira dispatches a trusted spy, Alexia (Daisy Head), to locate Selene. Meanwhile, Marius prepares a final assault on the remaining vampire strongholds. Underworld: Blood Wars is indistinguishable from earlier instalments, repeatedly relying on flashbacks to create a false sense of forward momentum. Digital effects, especially the mutation of actors into slavering werewolves, don't always meld seamlessly with live action and draw attention for the wrong reasons. Beckinsale tries to inject emotion into scenes that explore her character's estrangement from her daughter, but these are meagre scraps between bombastic skirmishes. "Nothing good comes to anyone I love," laments Selene at one point. Nothing good will come to anyone who watches this gloomy new escapade, which fails to expand or enrich any of the narrative arcs beyond revealing the lineage of one prominent character.