When I first saw the teasers for this film, I thought to myself that there was no way this movie could be done without dumbing down to the level of a 16-year old, Hot Topic shopping, depressed teenager. I also balked at going to see it because I felt that I would be sitting amongst hoards of them in the theater. Well surprisingly enough, neither situation was the case with this movie, and what I got was a refreshing change of pace from your typical vampire film.
Underworld is a sleek, novel, and chic action movie about a millennium old war between Vampires and Werewolves. Photographed in tinny, nocturnal hues similar to The Crow, it's set in an unnamed city, presumably in present day, where we discover the secret world and even more secret war existing between the Lycans (Werewolves) and the Vampires. Our heroine and narrator is Selene (Kate Beckinsale: Serendipity, Pearl Harbor), a Death Dealer, whose job is to hunt down and kill lycanthropes. One dark and stormy night (which seems to be the only weather condition in the movie) while on patrol, Selene finds werewolves shadowing a Human who they don't plan to eat for dinner. Finding this odd, and hoping to bust a few silver caps into these reservoir dogs, she goes after them, and that sets the story, and a long opening scene in motion.
That's all I'm saying about the plot, because I think you should see the movie without knowing too much else about it, not that there's some big surprise ending (there isn't). Although the approach and plot do have some novelty to it, the movie borrows generously from "The Matrix", right down to our heroine dressing like Trinity, (sorry Katie, but you ain't Carrie Anne Moss) and the unsuspecting human, Michael (Scott Speedman: Duets, Dark Blue) having a Neo-esque quality to him. I won't go into making other comparisons, but there are quite a few.
Underworld has a pretty good supporting cast, which makes up for the overall deficient acting of the lead cast. Beckinsale, while adequate in most aspects of her role (mainly due to the guns, stunts, and a leather cat suit), couldn't convincingly deliver a tough girl persona. Despite the cool posings, costumes, and stunts, Beckinsdale was miscast for the lead. Scott Speedman could have just as well had many of his lines given via subtitles and I think I would have gotten a more powerful conveyance. He seemed fairly clueless throughout everything and just as flat as he was in "Dark Blue" . Honestly, I was more impressed with his looks, and that's probably why he was cast, as was Hungarian model Zita Görög (Amelia) who had no lines, but her screen appearance, despite the numerous references to her character, was merely for babeage.
The supporting cast in Underworld executed the task of shoring up the artistic shortcomings of the principal players rather soundly. Vampire clan chief Kraven (Shane Brolly: Impostor), Lycan leader Lucian (Michael Sheen: Heartlands), nosferatu elder Viktor (Bill Nighy: Blow Dry), and jealous rival Sophia (Erika Myles: Out of Bounds) all weave together the dark fabric of this inventive tale.
I was pretty impressed by Michael Sheen, who I think did one of the best acting jobs in the film. He plays the head werewolf, and looks like he is in actual need of a bath, brush, and flea dip. From the point of view of the narrator, and thusly the audience, he's the enemy, but in the end you may just find him to be sympathetic, perhaps even more so than Selene and Michael. Something else I found lamentable was Sophia's inexplicable disappearance halfway through the story, but if there's gonna be a sequel, which story's structure and ending almost mandates there to be one, it will be a shame not to use that character as a focal point for it. However, I ramble....
Underworld is a good piece of work with an interesting storyline, capable supporting cast, with the bulk of the action occurring in one principal location and remarkable makeup and special effects. This time the effects blended into the picture and didn't overshadow the characters or scenes for which they were set to enhance nor did they take on an identity of their own, which is another credit for this film. If you are a fan of the vampire, werewolf, or Gothic genres, this is a movie you might want to sink your fangs into.
Grade: C for acting, B for story
Notes: Len Wiseman pumps some fresh blood into a the vampire genre.
Czarina's Caustic Comment or Captious Compliment: Finally, a respectable resurrection to the lifeless vampire genre.
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