Underworld is a 2003 action film directed by Len Wiseman. Billed by some as “Romeo and Juliet with Vampires and Werewolves,” Underworld almost fits the bill. The basic plot does play similarly to Shakespeare’s classic, but is lacking far too much in the development of its characters to stay on par. Kate Beckinsale plays Selene, a death dealer who hunts down and kills “Lycans,” a different name for “werewolves.” She plays the action role well, but has no real characterization apart from her desire to hunt down every last Lycan so that she can avenge her family. Eventually, she gets caught in the middle of a tale of betrayal, deceit and broken trust.
If this really was a Romeo and Juliet interpretation, one would think that a male would also be required. Enter Scott Speedman, who plays Michael Corvin. Speedman is the character who is supposed to have real emotions, and for the most part actually is. His character is a human, and not just any human, either. His blood is rumored to carry the dormant Corvinus Strain, something that is supposed to be able to fuse the two species into one hybrid. The Lycans begin the film as the only species that knows about him, but soon Selene finds out as well. The war between the two soon picks up, and the film actually goes into great detail regarding the origins of the war, as well as the mythos surrounding the vampires and Lycans.
This backstory, as well as the entire plot of the film, is actually fairly in-depth. At least, it is in terms of action movies. The origin of the Lycan/vampire blood war is touched upon, as is Selene’s personal hatred of the Lycans. I was really impressed by the depth that the plot had, especially due to the fact that action movies typically do not spend the time or energy on this element. Most of the time, characters are given simple motivation, with as little explained as possible, so as to not take away time from the action sequences. Underworld manages to accomplish both. It has good story, as well as some interesting action scenes.
In fact, the film’s quality actually dips a slight bit during the action sequences. That’s not to say that they aren’t good, but they just become slightly less interesting. The main reason for this is that you never really get to see monsters fight other monsters. For the most part, it looks like regular people with guns fighting werewolves, or regular people with guns fighting other regular people with guns. These scenes are still well made, and ultimately exciting to watch, but the lost opportunity of not really having monster vs. monster warfare is certainly disappointing.
If what you want out of a film is solid action complimented with a well thought out backstory and decent acting, then Underworld is a film you will likely enjoy.
Although, if the vampires had transformed like the Lycans do, things might have gotten laughable. When the transformation from human to Lycan occurs, the movie does begin to feel dated. The CGI used in the transformations looks downright silly in comparison to some of the ones we have nowadays. They look clumsy, and were not handled well at all. Thankfully, Underworld avoids showing these directly, for the most part at least. Most of the transformations are done off-screen, leaving more time for the fully transformed werewolves. After transformation, the Lycans don’t actually look all that bad. They look menacing and not all that fake. The same thing goes for the vampires. While the only real difference between them and humans is the fangs, they still look very good. They appear rather cocky and cold, something that is fully represented by the main character.
Kate Beckinsale plays a really cold character in Underworld. Selene is an old vampire now, and after nearly hunting the Lycans to extinction, she seems to no longer feel any need to be afraid. The rest of the vampire clan is similar to her, at least in terms of attitude. In fact, one of the main conflicts within the film is caused by the other vampires being so self-assured, that they don’t listen to her. This leads to them not being prepared for the impending Lycan attack. They act far more rationally, especially given their current circumstance. This applies to their leader, Lucian, as well. In fact, I need to mention Michael Sheen, who played Lucian, as he was by far the best actor in the film. He plays the villain well and ended up becoming a favorite character of mine.
If what you want out of a film is solid action complimented with a well thought out backstory and decent acting, then Underworld is a film you will likely enjoy. The Lycan and vampire feud has been going on for hundreds of years, and this is brought across well through the dialogue. The plot isn’t going to make you think all that hard, but it will keep you engaged better than a lot of action films. The action scenes will also keep you entertained, but if you are going in expecting transformed monsters fighting one another, you’ll likely leave disappointed. That may actually be for the best, as the transformations that did occur look clunky and dated. Once the Lycans do transform, though, they don’t do a bad job. They look like a real threat, and actually manage to hold up fairly well. Underworld is a fun film that will keep you engaged, give it a watch.
Conclusion: Underworld is an enjoyable and interesting action movie.
Recommendation: If you like this type of action movie, you’ll love Underworld.