Directed by Len Wiseman
Starring Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman
For fourteen hundred years the vampires have been at war with the Lycans (that’s werewolves to you and me); both races immortal – barring serious accident or bad cases of killing – and apparently none-too-bright. The Lycan general, Lucian, has been dead six centuries, and for all that time the vampire elite, the Deathdealers, have been on the verge of wiping out the last werewolves, but have never managed it.
Selene (Beckinsale) is one of these Deathdealers and while hunting Lycans she realises that they are showing an unusual interest in a human, Michael (Speedman). She also stumbles on a den of werewolves larger than any seen since Lucian’s death. She is all suspicious and stuff, but the leader of her coven, the aptly named Kraven (Shane Brolly), is too busy trying to get into her knickers to care. Oh; and the vampires are about to have a transfer of power between two of their elders.
Selene investigates Michael and gets the hots for him. Lucian – whose death was somewhat exaggerated by the only witness, Kraven – also shows up looking for him. Michael gets freaked out at the sheer number of fangy, gun-toting maniacs coming after him for one reason or another.
There’s a whole lot of killing and bloodshed and betrayal, then Michael and Selene fulfil Lucian’s plan by turning Michael into a super-hybrid of Lycan and vampire and offing Bill Nighy, lord of the undead.
What’s wrong with it?
Underworld is one of those films in which a whole bunch of good ideas get pissed away in a frenzy of fast-editing and wacky SFX. There are moments when the idea of a centuries old war, of a vampire populace yearning to forget about the war and get on with being all cool and Goth and stuff and the torturous and Byzantine politics almost get interesting, before some ludicrous set piece or clunky line of dialogue (“Silver nitrate! Bet you didn’t see that coming!”, oh, you were up all night for that kiss-off) brings the whole thing crashing back to Earth.
There are also a great many instances where you just wonder how these slackers have lasted as long as they have. Lucian’s Lycans wipe out a train full of veteran Deathdealers with nary a scratch in return, yet Selene can drop them by the dozen. Lucian successfully hides his existence for centuries, then Selene stumbles on his army and he lets Kraven – his creepy, weasel-traitor, unloved ally – be dragged into his lair with a gun. How did this lot manage to last so long.
A friend is quite insistent that I mention here that Selene tells Michael that he saved her life, when she’s actually undead, but the fact is that she isn’t undead. Undead is a word that never shows up in Underworld and all evidence suggests that these vampires are as vital as anyone.
What’s right with it?
Well, there’s some cool Gothy bits and impressive special effects, and the lead characters manage to be reasonably sympathetic, despite an excess of kewl. There are also some splendid ideas, however little time may be given over to them. And Bill Nighy; always good for the money. Many people also rate Kate Beckinsale in leather as a big draw, but by that standard you’d have to say Van Helsing was a winner.
How bad is it really?
None too. I mean, there’s some decent action, they don’t get bogged down in their own stupidity nearly as much as they could and at least it isn’t Underworld: Evolution. Or Blade II.
Okay, it’s been a while. Nothing really sticks out.
What’s up with…?
- Ultraviolet bullets? I mean, huh?
- Kraven’s kiss-off line to Lucian? “Silver nitrate! Bet you didn’t see that coming.” Well, he didn’t see anything coming, did he, otherwise he would have taken away your gun and you could have shot him with silver bullets, exploding rounds or whatever. The silver nitrate is the chemically-questionable icing on the explody death cake.
- Mr Razor Wire Whips? Come on; you’re just asking to get et.
- Bill Nighy is the Lord of the Undead?
Production Values: High. A little too much darkness, but basically sound. 4
Dialogue and Performances: A film somewhat lacking in snappy one-liners, which is a shame as it’s the kind of film that really needs that lift from time to time. The dialogue that there is isn’t bad, but it’s basically just, y’know, functional. There’s no zip, no fire, no poetry; not even bad angst poetry. 12
Plot and Execution: PWP, turned up to 11. Erm, the stuff with the blood and the big monsters and…stuff. Oh, you’re the spit and image of the girl I used to love. Huh? The film does well to avoid getting mired in all this crap people are spitting out by way of exposition. 13
Randomness: Bill Nighy is the lord of the undead?* 7
Waste of Potential: With a little more script work and a little less devotion to po-faced sombreness, this could have been a hell of a lot of fun. It’s still fun, just not a hell of a lot of it. 9
*Although in fairness, since this review was first written, this has become a thing.