Imagine if Blade sided with vampires instead of against, had plenty of help all with the same fashion sense, all lived in Dark City and fought everyone as if they were in The Matrix. Throw in some werewolves to slaughter and Kate Beckinsale wearing a maskless Catwoman outfit, and you pretty much have Underworld.
Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a Vampire, but also one of an elite group of fighters tasked with eradicating their enemies, the Lycans (werewolves). On the eve of an event the Vampires call The Awakening, Selene learns that the Lycans are not only suddenly more dangerous than anyone thought (and far better armed) but they also seem to have a particular interest in a human name Michael (Scott Speedman). Against orders, Selene discovers why this human is so important to the Lycan cause and learns secrets that may change everything she has come to believe.
First off, I admit to being a fan of the film Dracula 2000 primarily over one point in particular: putting the religion back into vampirism. These days, studios won’t touch anything of that sort for fear of offending someone, and many things such as crosses, holy water, and reflections don’t make sense in a fictional world where God doesn’t exist. Once again, someone has instead ‘re-invented’ the relationship between vampires and werewolves purely on a scientific level. These are diseases of the blood and body (werewolves and werebats), not a mystical rite or unholy power; there are no undead, just those infected with immortality. This banishing of mysticism with science fiction is similar to the fan complaint that George Lucas’s midichlorians invalidate the fantasy element of The Force.
What we’re left with is a tale of two monster races and an unlikely attraction between two of their number. The production design, however, is so derivative of other recent movies that only fans of the genre can tell at a glance that this isn’t another sequel to The Matrix or Dark City. Having said that (or rather, ignoring all of that), Underworld it’s still entertaining since it’s been a while (since Blade II in fact) since we’ve gotten such a fix, but being a first film keeps it bogged down in more explanation than action. Yes, it’s a melodrama worthy of a late night session of roleplaying in full Goth makeup and leather dusters, but it does have its moments and is wide open for a sequel.
Kate Beckinsale as Selene is satisfactory in her role trying to make a brooding vampire with a chip on her shoulder sexy, but Kate manages to stay cute enough and pauses long enough between killings to seem approachable as her character transforms. Scott Speedman as the human Michael doesn’t get much screen time but adequately conveys the viewers? point of view in everything going on. Bill Nighy outdoes himself as Viktor, easily the best asset of the entire cast, but Shane Brolly playing Viktor’s number two Kraven never conveys anything other than a whiny fancy lad oblivious as to why no one takes him seriously as the great vampire warrior he’s supposed to be.
Genre fans expecting the monster war hinted at in the trailers will likely be unhappy since each battle is little more than one group outnumbering and chasing down the other until one escapes or is cut down. Blame the marketers for not telling you what the film is really about: solving a mystery for why the war exists and how to end it. Hopefully the sequel will steer away from The Matrix and solidify into something more original next time around.
1 Skull Recommendation Out of Four