Action Movie Friday: Underworld

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: Underworld
MPAA Rating: R
Release: 2003
Genre: science, fantasy, horror, action
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly, Bill Nighy, Sophia Myles, Kevin Grevioux
Director: Len Wiseman
Writer: Len Wiseman, Kevin Grevioux, Danny McBride
Distributor: Sony/Screen Gems
Budget: $22 Million
Box Office: $96 Million

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 31%

Gingersnaps Rating: Three and a half cookies!

Summary:

The centuries old war between the vampires and the lycans has almost come to a standstill for the lycans had been hunted to the brink of extinction. In secret, however, the lycans have been gathering their resources and growing their numbers. Their hope is Michael Corvin, a human, a direct descendent of Corvinus, that he will fulfill their long time goal, a merging of the species. Standing in their way is Selene, a Death Dealer and beloved of Victor, the most vicious of the persecutor of the Lycans. If she gets to Micheal before they do, all hope maybe lost and the political maneuvering within the courts of the vampires they set in motion centuries ago may be for naught.

Review:

Let’s forget the numbers for the moment, as they are about to start filming the fifth movie of this franchise in Prague, it’s been successful enough to garner sequels. The movie has been successful enough.

This movie seems simple enough in theory. Take two of the most popular horror monsters, vampires and werewolves, throw them into one movie and have them fight each other! It’s a no brainer. Like, Alien versus Predator. Give the audiences enough of a good old fashioned classic beat down set to some heavy metal music and they’ll come back for me.

Which, I’ll admit, to an extent they did.

If they’d left the plot as, werewolves want Michael to turn him, Selene has to stop werewolves or turn Michael herself, then I probably would have left this cookie alone. They didn’t. So, I can’t. See, they introduced politics. Politics and action just don’t go together very well. Politics just bogs down the narrative flow. It also leaves more questions unanswered than it solves. Save the political intrigue for long series of books or on television and streamline the plot into monster movie. Because of all this political intriguing and such, we meet a bunch of characters who end up dying very easily before we learn anything about what they’re about. And given the fact they are monsters and some of them go out with little to no fight, this is incredibly distressing. These Elders sound important. Amelia was this amazing looking character. There had to be a better way to get her blood than killing her!

Seriously, if you want to be an action movie, be an action movie. Chew Bubblegum and take names. If you want to be a political movie be that! Scheme, betray and manipulate to your heart’s content. Just choose one, because two to two and a half hours just isn’t enough time to be both successfully.

Then, you have the vampires constantly underestimated the lycans, meaning they’ve grown complacent, spending too much time looking inwards and being arrogant than actually taking the war seriously. This seems to be a centuries old problem as well, as it was clear also in Rise of the Lycans. You’d think, that once they started turning lycans from Lucian who can return to human form, they’d realize that Lycans were not mindless beasts. In fact, this mindless animal beast narrative seems to have been wrong from the very beginning as the lycans form packs like their wolf brethren and work together. You can’t be mindless if you’re working together and building tunnels and so on. Digging a tunnel is not as easy as you’d think it is. Either something wasn’t completely thought through here or this was a deliberate act to make me frustrated. The fact that all vampires have bought into this mindless beast narrative is bothersome, surely someone would know better, especially when the lycans have infiltrated the police and are doing science. It’s a glaring omission and extremely frustrating.

I’m eating half this cookie.

Explosions, yes, there was one completely unnecessary explosion with a sewer shaft. I’ll keep this cookie.

Now, for a monster movie, instead of all out vampire and werewolf brawls, we got a lot of shoot outs and some weapons fighting. In fact, the first awesome and entertaining hand to hand fights between the vampires and werewolves was when Victor finally took to the battlefield. I’m not saying that some of the gun fights weren’t entertaining and didn’t provide tension, they did, they just weren’t all I wanted to see. Some of Selene’s gun moves were really cool and all. I wanted to see her punching through werewolf chests! Victor redeemed this cookie.

As for Selene herself, Selene has about as much depth as a piece of cardboard. She isn’t a strong character at all. Her entire motivation is to hunt and kill Lycans which will gain her Viktor’s approval. She spends much of the movie being a stoic so when she does fall into shock near the end of the movie, it feels really out of character. We spent a whole movie with this woman and ultimately the only reason I feel we were supposed to like her was the fact she was a female who shot guns really well. Let me put it this way, she wasn’t doing any other sort of fighting move other than some sword swinging and some jumping. How many hundreds of years and she’s all martial but no art? It’s bothersome. If her main draw is to be a dog on a leash and be intimidating in this political intrigue going on, then maybe she should do more than shoot people in the head! Instead of being a player, like we’d figure a main character would be, she was no more than a pawn with some fancy gun moves. (Of course, stories where the main character finds out she is a pawn can be interesting if done correctly. Selene seemed to know she was a pawn and didn’t care.)

And then, once again, we had the ‘one woman in the movie’ role where Selene had to represent everything about being female and fill all traditional female roles, including the role of lover. After having watched three movies now where Kate is supposed to be the lover, my only conclusion is that Kate is not comfortable doing romance scenes on camera. It doesn’t help that her and the actor that played Michael have no chemistry between them whatsoever. Perhaps the actor chosen was chosen for his looks, because he certainly wasn’t chosen for the way he and Kate acted together. On top of this, the whole love plot makes no sense. It is very clear throughout most of the movie that Selene is only using Michael because he is the key to the Lycan’s plans. If she can find out what they want with Michael, she can stop them. She could care less for him as a person, even though he saves her life. She’d just as happily kill him if he gets in her way. It is only in the final half of the third act, that somehow her feelings change for him and suddenly, we’re supposed to believe that they are in love or in something. With Selene being so stoic it really is hard to tell. Just, this was a bad idea all around. I don’t like ‘insta’ love to begin with, this felt forced, tacked on and truly unnecessary. Can we get back to killing monsters?

I felt bad for Erika, even though her role in the plot is to be the toady to whoever she thinks can give her the most power at the time. In Rise of the Lycans we see that Erika was one of Sonja’s ladies in waiting essentially. Then, now in Underworld, we see centuries later, that Erika is serving the same role to Selene. She hasn’t really advanced in the court at all, most likely due to Viktor’s meddling when he created Selene to be his surrogate daughter. In a more long running series, she could have been an interesting character since she seemed to have more motivations than Selene.

And like I said, we barely saw Amelia, which given she was an Elder, was a pity. There also weren’t any female lycans, which made no bloody sense whatsoever.

Of all the characters, Victor was the most interesting. Where did his prejudice come from? Who betrayed him that he focuses so much on even perceived betrayal and punishes it with absolutes? What is his obsession with his daughter(s) about? Selene, eh, she hunts and kills Lycans because they killed her family. She’s easy to understand. Viktor is the character with layers. This shouldn’t happen when your main character is the female vampire Death Dealer!

Two bites out of this cookie for Selene and one bite for Amelia and Erika and the lack of female lycans. So, half a cookie.

Underworld is grounded in a really solid concept. Because, it is a pretty simple concept. Vampires can’t stand daylight. Werewolves can’t stand silver. Oh, and they can’t stand each other so they are at war. Throw in a red herring or two and a back stabbing good for nothing and basically ignore everything else except vampires have covens (are they witches now?) and werewolves have packs (I don’t think this was explicitly stated due to the pro-vampire POV to the movie) and you’ve got the basics of the movie without trying too hard. Nothing else was really needed. Yet, the did add more, the vampires own companies and there are covens in America. The werewolves are police or have bought off the police, so someone in authority knows about them. The werewolves also have an enzyme to stop the change, where did they get that? And why do the lycans all look like they have a bad case of mange? That cannot be comfortable. Too many unanswered blatant questions in this movie.

I have one nitpick with this movie and that is the lighting. Last I knew, Prague was not bathed in eternally blue light. Also, twilight doesn’t work that way. Depending on when I watch this movie it either gives me a headache from straining my eyes or makes me want to take a nap. I don’t know what the filmmakers thought was wrong with yellow, green and red light, but it definitely was a bad decision not to include it.

A bite of the cookie for unanswered questions and yes, a bite of the cookie for poor lighting decisions. I shouldn’t want to take a nap after an exciting monster action movie! So, half a cookie.

Really, my end though when I finish this movie is that it feels like an extensive two hour long pilot for a television show that couldn’t be made as a television show because of budgetary constraints. This makes for a mediocre movie. I liked this concept and would gladly watch a television show of it. Perhaps in a television show, Selene would have time to be less stoic and grow, becoming less ‘cold.’ As it is, this leaves me with far too many unanswered questions. Three and a half gingersnaps.

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