Action Movie Fanatix Review: Underworld

An Immortal Battle For Supremacy.

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Erwin Leder, Bill Nighy, Wentworth Miller

Director: Len Wiseman

2003  |  121 Minutes  |  Rated R

“Put on something elegant and be quick about it.” – Kraven

It is funny.  Going in to my most recent viewing of Underworld I was so sure that I had seen it before.  I just couldn’t remember much.  Just a lot of darkness and a lot of leather.  After this viewing I realize that I had probably only seen bits and pieces of it and its sequels and just mashed them all together in my head to make up my view of it.

Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a vampire warrior in the middle of an age old vampire/lycan (werewolf) war.  Kraven (Shane Brolly) is the leader of the vampires who spend more time having fancy parties than actually hunting the lycan.  The lycan are led by Lucian (Michael Sheen), who is thought dead by the vampires.  Selene falls in love with a human, Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman) who has a special bloodline that is desired by the lycan.  Through this taboo love affair Selene discovers that Lucian may still be alive and that there may be something much bigger going on between he and Kraven.  Selene then wakes Viktor (Bill Nighy) from his 200 year slumber to try to get his help and guidance to find the truth.

First off, I feel it is essential to recognize that Underworld borrows a lot of its look and ideas from other movies.  To say that movies like The Crow, Blade or The Matrix were inspirations for Underworld would be an understatement.  There are moments that are a blatant rip off.  I will say that Underworld generally does a pretty decent job of combining these styles and (sort of) making them their own.

The look of Underworld is all very one-note.  Its always raining.  EVERYONE wears leather or dresses like they are going to a Victorian ball.  As good as Kate Beckinsale looks in leather, I got really sick of seeing every single vampire, werewolf and human clad in leather.  Even the cops wear black leather trench coats.  It would have been much more interesting if humans dressed like real people, vampires had their goth/Victorian/leather style and the lycans had their own style.  Maybe the lycans go for a slightly medieval look or something.  Something to give the look of the film a little diversity.  It would also help during scenes where the lycans are in their human form so that we can easily identify who is vampire and who is werewolf.

The special effects in Underworld were one of the highpoints for me.  They are already a little dated looking but I still really got a kick out of some of the effects.  My favorite was the lycan transformation.  It was as if the bones in their face and body would crack and shift to form the shape of the werewolf.  A really nice effect.  Most movies tend to just cut away and come back once the human has already turned into the werewolf.

I found the action to mostly be rather boring.  I can’t pinpoint why though.  It isn’t necessarily poorly done.  It is probably that it all just feels like I have seen it done before and done better.  When looking back on it there are few scenes that stick with me as memorable.  There is the scene where Selene shoots out the floor underneath her to gain an escape route but that isn’t even a vampire vs. lycan fight.  More like vampire vs. floorboards.  The only other fight that stands out is the scene where the vampire tries to fight Raze, the biggest, baddest werewolf, with only two whips as weapons.  Even I knew that wasn’t going to work.

The acting is rather poor as well.  Kate Beckinsale does her best but most around her aren’t even near her level, and most wouldn’t put her at the top of any Oscar nomination lists.  Many of the actors are just slightly above the level of some high school theater productions I have seen.  It seems like some goth theater kids thought it would be fun to dress up as vampires and werewolves.

I basically watched the first half of the movie blankly staring at the screen, not really caring what was going on.  Then right in the middle I found that I actually started to care about the story.  It got interesting.  All of a sudden there was deception and intrigue which prior to that had been nonexistent.  Its also funny that even though I was only half-heartedly paying attention during that first hour, I didn’t feel like I missed anything.

Even though I didn’t overly enjoy Underworld, I didn’t hate it and I found myself getting into the story more than any of the action scenes.  It definitely sets up for sequels and at the end I found myself wondering what comes next.  Somehow something worked here and it rightfully shouldn’t have.