Retro Review: Underworld

Beneath our city streets and deep within our darkest sewers, a masquerade lives on. This masquerade must not be revealed to human eyes as a blood-thirsty war brews on. For centuries vampires have hunted “lycans” or werewolves in hopes of committing a final act of complete genocide.

At the centre of that war is a cold, beautiful and rebellious hunter or the elite of the vampiric forces and their endless fight in the night. She is Selene (Kate Beckinsale).

An innocent human Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman) is being hunted by lycans when Selene stumbles upon him. Why do her greatest enemies want such a human so bad? What does this human have that is so desperately needed by the lycans?

Just as Selene is about to save Michael from an onslaught of lycans, he is bitten by a lycan and the whole dynamic changes. How can Selene uncover this mystery when he has now become her enemy? Should she protect this man from lycans or vampires? An innocent soul is about to unravel her world for all time.

Underworld” is a dark, dismal and leather-clad world where a new take on the whole classic gothic world is being brought forth. The concept, ideas and even some of the characters are interesting and overly brooding. The greatest aspect of the film is the concept and how it desperately wants to be taken seriously. It being so overly serious is where I find that the film needed a lot of work.

For an epic gothic film to work one has to have something to relate to. There is no contrast in this film since we are never quite sure who to route for since everything isn’t revealed until the film’s finally 40 minutes. The film is almost swallowed in its ignoring of yin and yang or light vs. dark.

What could have helped this film with its overly brooding and dismal depiction is the injection of some humor. This counter balance could have allowed for us to relate better with these other-worldly characters. Without the balance of yin and yang the film just comes off as a very dry melodrama.

The sets and textures of the world itself leave a lot to the imagination. There is so much black in this film that you have to create color from your squinting eyes to make out characters in some scenes. Doesn’t the sun ever come out?

It is blatantly obvious that the film’s action sequence will be compared to “The Matrix” because anytime you have slow-mo action scenes with leather-clad warriors it is a predictable conclusion. There are also comparisons to “Blade” but if it were me I’d take Selene over Blade any day. I enjoyed a lot of the action sequences when they were visible. But a lot of teeth and leather-clad action sequences, a great film it doesn’t make.

Speaking of Selene, Kate Beckinsale is beautiful, violent and daring as the vampire hunter. With a flick of her hair, lick of her lips or motion of her rubber-encased legs, you are captivated. Her appearance and envelopment of the character brings a striking charisma to this lethal soldier. In some ways, Selene is the perfect “Buffy the Lycan Slayer”.

Scott Speedman (Michael) and Bill Nighy (vampire-lord Viktor) are sturdy as the male leads and a good contrast to Selene. I especially like Nighy and how he was able to be so menacing. I had a hard time with the chemistry between Speedman and Beckinsale. I didn’t feel any raw attraction which is key in making the romantic angle work. There was more chemistry between Beckinsale and Nighy in their pseudo-father-daughter relationship.

Underworld” is in the purest sense of the words, a melodramatic gothic mob story with a romantic subplot. There is a lot to like here but I felt overwhelmed by the film’s dry and very thick dogma.

3.5 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

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