YEAR RELEASED: 2003
DIRECTOR: Len Wiseman
CAST: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Erwin Leder, Bill Nighy
“The war had all but ground to a halt in the blink of an eye. Lucian, the most feared and ruthless leader ever to rule the Lycan clan, had finally been killed. The Lycan horde scattered to the wind in a single evening of flame and retribution. Victory, it seemed, was in our grasp, the very birthright of the vampires. Nearly six centuries had passed since that night, yet the ancient feud proved unwilling to follow Lucian to the grave. Though Lycans were fewer in number, the war itself had become more perilous, for the moon no longer held her sway. Older, more powerful Lycans, were now able to change at will. The weapons had evolved, but our orders remained the same: Hunt them down and kill them off, one by one. A most successful campaign. Perhaps too successful. For those like me, a Death Dealer, this signaled the end of an era. Like the weapons of the previous century, we, too, would become obsolete. Pity, because I lived for it.”
And so we begin the story of Underworld, a surprisingly-good horror action adventure romp, where vampires battle for werewolves for survival in a centuries-long war.
Our cold and icy heroine, Selene, played by Kate Beckinsale, is a beautiful vampire warrior, in the tightest cat suit imaginable, whose whole raison d’être is to kill werewolves, known as Lycans. Her journey from a firm believer in her species right to rule to a more inclusive position is what drives the film. It’s also a love story too, but fortunately, it doesn’t get too sickly in this respect.
Underworld is indeed intriguing horror action series. In what could have just been a reason to see vampires and vampires beating the crap out of it each in hi-tech special effects, we have great dialogue and engrossing storyline. It isn’t particularly horrifying or scary and purists will probably hate it. But it is visually-stunning and the dark gothic sets and costumes are magnificent.
Underworld is the first of four films so far in the series. The first film was a joint British-German-Hungarian-US production with a mostly British cast. The setting is not said throughout the film, but it is pretty obvious it is Hungary and near by Eastern European countries. This is probably the best in the series, but the next two films are great as well. Only the fourth lets it down but I will talk about that in the Underworld Awakening (2012) review.
There is only one human in the first Underworld film, that of Michael Corvin, played by Scott Speedman, but he is soon turned into a Lycan and subsequently a Hybrid Vampire-Lycan. Selene’s love for Michael – in a Romeo and Juliet-type scenario – is what causes the conflict in the film between Selene and her coven. The anger caused by the star-crossed lovers is intense and shows that bigotry is one of Underworld’s strongest themes.
The back story of the Vampire-Lycan war is quite intricate and it is slowly trickled out throughout the film. We learn the Selene became a vampire when her family was murdered by rampaging Lycans. It was the elder Viktor, played by Bill Nighy, who saved the orphaned child and gave her the gift of immortality. But when she meets the Lycan leader, Lucian – played by the always brilliant Michael Sheen – and discovers the secrets of her past, her world is turned upside down.
Throughout the film we are introduced to interesting characters and despite criticism of the film that I have read, I think the story is character-driven despite a hell of a lot of visually-exciting action. It is an action film but the action isn’t what makes it great.
My main criticism is that is that I find gun action not particularly interesting, especially when characters have supernatural powers. This is rectified in upcoming films, where there is more cool martial art action, but for Underworld, it is mostly lots of shooting. (The vampires use bullets with silver liquid in them on the werewolves and the werewolves use UV (sunlight) infused bullets on the vamps – which I thought was pretty cool actually.)
I expected Underworld to be a vacuous teenager-type film, not unlike Twilight, but I was pleasantly surprised. It has a brilliant, mostly British cast and the story kept me engaged. After watching Underworld, I quickly started watching Underworld Evolution to see what happened next, so that gives you some idea of what I thought of the film. I’ve now seen the whole series and will review them in upcoming days.