Kate Beckinsale in tight leather and PVC, Len Wiseman directing after having been recruited in the art departments for Stargate, Godzilla and Independence Day. A seemingly good coupling brought together for what would also seem to be a compelling storyline. Gothic Vampyres against rocker Werewolves. For just under a millennium the Vampyres have been at constant war with the werewolves. The lycanthropes once were slaves to their Vampyre masters, not necessarily happy in their lot it was accepted, it was the way of things and with these two old enclaves tradition has to be respected. But then war erupted. Lucian (Michael Sheen), our lycanthropic leader was chained and forced to watch his beloved die. His beloved's only crime... to be vampyre and social integration to that extent hadn't evolved to the degree which it has today.
And so the war started. Lucian vowing revenge, not only for the years spent in servitude but also for the memory of his love. The werewolves fought tooth and claw, the vampyres on the other hand being a more 'nobler' race delegated this aspect of their society to the Death Dealers; a highly trained group tasked with hunting down and killing every last known werewolf. And it is so that at the start of the film we see and hear Selena (Kate Beckinsale), a member of the Death Dealers, narrating this brief history to us. We are informed that Lucian was killed many centuries ago and now although revelling in her role as hunter and killer she fears it may all end too soon; such has been the successful accomplishments of her and her fellow death squad members.
On a hunting trip Selena and a voyueristic vampyre colleague follow 2 lycans. Following them down into the subway Selena realises that these two creatures of the night, now no longer held by the moon's effect and who can change at will, are not just themselves out for a little midnight feast.. they are stalking one particular human, Michael (Scott Spedman). Why? She does not know, but it seems that she is determined to find out. Her subsequent research proves a little disturbing. It would seem that the long dead Lucian may in fact be alive and the werewolves that they thought were all but wipped out are growing in numbers again.
Something is not right in the vampyre coven. The coven's leaders (Bill Nighy being the main, Viktor) are asleep and soon to be re-awakened. Is it coincidence that Lucian seems to have reappeared at this very time, can he actually be in league with vampyres himself and what is so important about one particular less than meaty human?
Underworld updates two age old Gothic legends bringing together two of the three most known horror genres, all that was needed was Frankenstein's Monster to make an appearance for a full house. Extrapolating the age old servitude feud between the two into the present day with all of the accompaniments which that entails; more devastating weapons of destruction, towers of rock and glass to hide in, subways and the underworld to call your home. Underworld presents well the two societies... the vampyres lording it above ground, clean shaven, a fine line in designer fetish and Gothic apparel whilst their poor cousins, the subjugated lycanthropes, live below ground no home to call their own resorting to fighting between themselves for sport as though they were members of some secret fight club cabal.
The relationship between these two clans develops and matures throughout the film. Flashbacks from Michael as he descends into a lycanthropic coma and narration from Selena as she pieces the parts of this jigsaw together slowly expose to the viewer the true form and history these two devils of the night share. An understanding of the rights and wrongs in this story start out to be plain and simple but the waters are muddied and who's perhaps right and who's wrong may not at first be what you seem. That's always the course with a good action film though, into which category this film firmly falls. Trust no one and follow the story. The relationship which develops between apparent hero, human Michael, and apparent heroine, vampyre Selena, grows well and in the nature of the film's surroundings can be accepted for what it is. The desires, needs and wants of the other main protagonists are presented with valid reason and as such they are never really dismissed.
So far so good then, a good enough action flick, good enough representation of the characters and their own desires. But, as so often is the case with the horror/action genre sadly it just can't quite pull it off. Two of Universal's top horror species are presented as ultimately being far too nice for their own good. Ever since Anne Rice got her claws into the genre the Vampyre has had a heart, a history and a reason not to go around torturing the very souls of their prey. Vampyres by their very nature are cruel, black-hearted animals visceral in nature, uncompromising to the last, a servant of the dark beast. Not someone you think about taking home to see Mom for Sunday Roast.
Although less stylish, due to their lack of a decent tailor, the Werewolf has always offered a more rounded character. A troubled being longing for endless months with no moon should they once again change beyond their control and kill beyond their capacity to comprehend or absolve themselves. They are beings at the mercy of another contained within them, a fore-runner to The Hulk forever to wander trying to find a way to lift their own personal curse. It's much the same here, although too little of their history is explored and really developed. I sat up a little on hearing of the tragedy Lucian was forced to endure and although his actions now are dictated by his experiences so many centuries ago, in the end his reasons like the vampyres before him become all too 2-dimensional and the film suffers because of this.
More than adequate performances by Steelman, Kate Beckinsale (did I mention the tight PVC leather combination?), Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy again lording it up, are not enough to pull this up from the underworld onto a higher plane. Stylistically it's pretty neat, but a film cannot live by style alone.
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