Underworld (2003)

underworldIn this horror action film directed by Len Wiseman, Kate Beckinsale plays Selene, a warrior and assassin for a vampire clan who is on the hunt for a young doctor named Michael Corvin who bears an unknown gift, but now the vampire clan is at war with a rival clan of Lycans (werewolves) who are intent in crossing the young man over to their side; but soon Selene and Michael begin falling in love as the war intensifies and must choose between their family or love. I remember when I went to the theaters to check this out; I had ten dollar bill in my hand and I had to choose between “Cabin Fever” or this. I inevitably made a decision that I would soon live to regret for all my days as I chose “Cabin Fever” hoping I’d come across a horror gem, I really wish I would have chosen this instead.

Following along the same mood setting and grim landscapes of a unnamed metropolis, “Underworld” conveys a truly interesting concept of Werewolves and vampires feuding in a non-stop war of wills, powers, and control of the darkness. The film presents a stunning visual feast of incredible city landscapes including the opener as we watch heroine Selene perched atop a tall building looking down onto Michael Corvin. Though the hero perched upon a tall building image is very cliché, it’s still rather effective with the graceful and gorgeous British angel Beckinsale perched atop like a hell’s angel with all her leather-clad glory. Though leather has managed to become a superhero facet in the modern age as the new spandex, Beckinsale wears it well and director Wiseman flaunts her incredible physique and curves with much leather throughout the film.

Beckinsale whom I’ve always had a thing for since “Serendipity” manages to completely change moods with all the dark complexity’s of a conflicted heroine forced to choose between love or family. Like a twisted “Godfather”, both sides of the spectrum are polar opposites but boy are they damned cool! The vampire coven lives in a lush large Gothic mansion smoking and chatting among their peers and scheming led by the young Kraven who has mysterious ties and an eye for Selene who refuses to wed him; he’s followed around by the ridiculously hot Amelia who is in love with Kraven and constantly schemes against Selene for his hand. I’ve always found vampires to be incredibly fascinating and in the film they never lose any of the luster or attraction. On the other end are the clan of Lycans (Whom I personally preferred in the film), a clan of werewolves who can change form from man to beast and vice versa within their own will.

They’re often the more brutish rival and less sophisticated who drive simply on power and stamina; they’re led by Lucian who leads his clan with an iron fist. The film gives a truly unique look at the vampire/werewolf mythology showing their dark attributes not as a lifestyle but simply as just another weapon in their arsenal. The lycans and vampires fight with guns and hand to hand combat then resort to their dark powers when only out of options. Suffice to say the effects of the film are a sheer joy to watch with incredible creature effects. The werewolves are incredible and their features are eye candy for the mind and sheer food for the natural lover of the Gothic and macabre, the vampires look like German supermodels trouncing around in Victorian clothing and leather seeming unthreatening and bound by their class.

The special effects and battle sequences are exciting often showing the werewolves with mountainous physiques as they crawl along the walls in one of my favorite scenes chasing after Selene. The climax of the film is exciting as we witness the coming of the vampire/werewolf hybrid and the effect for that creature is phenomenal looking a lot like Nightcrawler in “X2” but a lot more cooler on Scott Speedman who’s perfectly built for the make-up. The story is otherwise very interesting with the great concept of the million year war with the werewolves (who were once watchdogs under the service of the vampires) and vampires duking it out after a conflict (which I won’t reveal) made them immortal enemies. The climax is very exciting and leaves the door open for an inevitable sequel which will soon follow. As far as plot goes, there’s not a lot to this film. This is an awfully clunky action film that derives most of the attention spent during the two hour time span of the film on action and action alone.

Sure, I enjoy action films and have seen some truly good ones, but the film uses action as a prime motive to move the story along and never uses it practically. There’s no character set-up, the characters and story are paper thin and there’s a barrel full of shooting and violence. We’re told that the character Michael Corvin is a young doctor but we never see him in the hospital working. It would have been nice to set-up his character first, but the director and writer take no time out for any set-ups and instead delve straight into the action like a film with A.D.D. The action is often very exciting but hardly original and there are many instances where it becomes tiresome. The gunfights go on way too long and never settle down enough for the audience to get comfortable. There are some truly talented actors and actresses in the film, but they’re all so badly wasted it becomes hard to distinguish who is the exact main character in this yarn.

Scott Speedman who was likable in “Felicity” barely has any lines in the film to spread his acting chops with and instead acts as a prop to move the storyline along and gaze doe-eyed at Beckinsale. Their love entanglement is barely ever touched upon for a film described as “Romeo and Juliet with vampires and werewolves” so we never really get why everyone in the film dismisses it as forbidden and is so against it. Beckinsale who is one of the main tools for marketing the film barely has enough of a character to be considered the main focus of the film; she has no personality traits we can admire or hate nor does she have a whole lot of lines. There are a lot of interesting characters during the story but none of them really register or resonate from beyond the screen; there’s really no one to root for except the two main characters who are incomplete and half-done as far as development goes. Bill Nighy who took a critically acclaimed stint in “Love Actually” plays head honcho and powerful vampire lord Viktor who is prematurely resurrected by Selene who seeks his guidance with the war taking place, but manages to take control of the war.

Once again, he’s barely ever focused on until we’re told of his legend and even then we’re wondering whether he’d be considered a villain or a hero within the story. It’s never fully established within the confines of his description whether we should root for him or hate him. Writer Danny McBride attempts to concoct a story of Shakespearean quality with the love interest and kingdom of rivaling vampires/werewolves but fails miserably with such a paper thin plotline that barely emphasizes the grand war taking place before our eyes. It looks like a war, but fails to feel like a truly epic battle going on between vampires and werewolves. Though the concept is incredible and truly original, it leaves room for a horror fan like myself to gobble every aspect up, but fails to deliver with anything truly tasty or memorable. The last moments of the film take a dive into the ridiculous and presents a large plot hole as we watch the second powerful vampire “Marcus” awaken as he tastes werewolf blood for the first time turning into another hybrid, but here’s the question: Every character clearly states during the length of the story that in order to become a werewolf/vampire hybrid you’d have to be bitten by both a vampire and werewolf as the cells converge, BUT instead he drinks the blood, so why does he become a hybrid? Sloppy, messy, and with a paper thin plot that never lives up to its full potential, alas, this is a mess of monumental proportions and that is scary.