Let’s start a new series.
The Underworld movies represent one of those series that has a massive divide between fans and critics. Critics have pointed to the derivative nature of the series and seem to not enjoy it, but fans love it. This series has become a bit of a cult success (and it is amazing to think the first one came out 17 years ago!).
The first entry introduces us to the blue-filtered world of vampires waging an endless war against the lycans. We follow Selene (Kate Beckinsale) a Death Dealer (…) who hunts lycans in an effort to stamp them out forever.
Sounds like a cool action world, right? In a lot of ways, the stories not told are more interesting than the one the movie focuses on. I can see why this series is liked, but there are numerous issues that certainly hold it back.
First and foremost, we are thrown a ton of lore that contains obvious twists. Anyone with any critical thinking will see the big reveals coming from miles away, and this is a shame. The movie could have been built a lot better if things weren’t telegraphed so strongly.
Spoiler warning here.
Selene learns that the werewolves are tracking a human shaped block of wood named Michael (Scott Speedman) for unknown reasons, and as she investigates why he is important she also learns the entire vampire society is built on deceit.
Where the movie fails is that it chooses to not utilize its better characters, Lucian (Michael Sheen) as the big bad wolf and Viktor (Bill Nighy) as the vampire lord. Instead, we end up with the goth middle manager Kraven (Shane Brolly) as our villain for most of the running time. I don’t think Brolly should be blamed for bad narrative framing. The way they have him act is simply too over-the-top sleaze ball to not end up being the villain.
From the first scene (where we also get to see all the other vampires who apparently do nothing but hang around a goth parlor) we see Kraven he is immediately the obvious villain. Knowing this so soon makes us wonder if the werewolves are actually the good guys (which they kind of are) and so all the narrative twists just end up kind of flat.
The conflict between the vampires and lycans could have been an interesting story of intrigue and action, but it comes off as a little flat here.
The weirdest part about this movie is how boring it is. Selene seems cartoonishly slow to react to things, and the over two-hour running time makes this a bit of a slog. We don’t have many thrills or fights for a movie that needs to have plenty.
My biggest gripes surround the failure to weave a surprising story. However, there is an odd charm to this movie. It provides just enough fun action to work. While it could have been reformed into a spectacular dark fantasy, and it is a shame it didn’t, we still have a pretty fun popcorn film.
The film is funner than it has any right to be. I made fun of Kraven and Michael above, but really, most of the characters are just terrible. We get one dimensional people here at best. There is no spark or chemistry between any of them (even those who are supposed to fall in love). With all the issues in the film you’d think it would be a total shitshow, but for me it just wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, we riffed on it the whole way through, but there is a level of pulpy enjoyment to be had.
The movie offers some dumb fun. However, if you’re like me you’ll just be thinking about how much better it could be.
Wonder how good the sequels are going to be…