Ever since Dracula and the Wolf Man briefly butted their heads in the closing moments of Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein, Hollywood has sporadically tried to make the vampires vs. werewolves plot a thing. Of course there’s the Twilight saga; but the grumblings of glittery brooders and CG Native American doggos wasn’t exactly what I was looking for and the less said about 2004’s Van Helsing and it’s mulchy, climactic CGI grudge match, the better.
However, in 2003, a movie popped up on the radar that hung its entire plot on the notion that the two supernatural species really, really fucking hated each other’s guts and Len Wiseman’s Underworld was born.
Did we finally have a fanged showdown for the ages or would the greatest vamp vs wolf faceoff forever always be What We Do In The Shadows or even Howling VI?
In the shadows of the night, on the rain lashed streets of an unnamed city, a war has been secretly raging between vampires and werewolves (dubbed Lycans) for hundreds of years, but a centuries old victory, the Lycans are all but extinct. Selene, a deeply serious, “young”, vampire is a member of the elite Lycan hunting order known as the Death Dealers who attacks her work – and her hairy victims – with a certain ferocity due to her being orphaned by Lycans, but after a standard stakeout (pun not intended) turns into a very public shootout, Selene becomes convinced that some sort of Lycan resurgence is waiting in the wings. It seems that Michael, an average, ordinary, human medical student is the key to whatever the Lycans have planned and Selena is more than willing to defy the orders of her coven to get to the bottom of this fanged mystery and discovers that Lucian, the Lycan who originally started the war and was thought long dead has popped back up on the grid with a scheme to render the war obsolete by finding a host that can survive bites from both Vampire and Lycan.
Unable to trust the current coven second in command, Kraven (well, yeah… just check out his name), Selene does the unthinkable and prematurely awakens hibernating Vampire elder Viktor in a desperate need for guidance, but this only makes things worse as the crinkled old fuck is far more concerned with the complicated line of succession than the thought of a freaky hybrid running around.
However, after Michael receives a Lycan bite from Lucien that immediately means that he and Selene are supposed to now be mortal enemies, the start finding out what really happened all those centuries ago to cause the two species to go to war and the truth will tear everything they once knew apart.
You would think that the rise of another super-cool vampire franchise would be something to celebrate, especially considering that, unbeknownst to us at the time, the Blade series was only a year away from spectacularly staking itself in the chest with Blade: Trinity, so Underworld, with its endless black coats and unnecessary posing, seemed like just the ticket to succeed the incredibly violent Wesley Snipes vehicles. In some ways, it does. Similarities in fashion and style aside, director Len Wiseman (he of Die Hard 4.0 and the Total Recall remake) spins a surprisingly rich mythos that all the subsequent shooty, bitey stuff hangs on that weaves a tale that actually contains it’s fair share of clandestine deals and backstabbing antics. It’s just a shame then that Underworld ends up being as flashily dreary as watching glittered paint dry as the actual plot suffers from a stunning lack of charisma despite having a genuinely impressive cast doing their best through the metallic blue gloom.
Kate Beckinsale runs around, poured into a leather cat suit that’s so insanely snug it would make Catwoman and Black Widow break out in hives and follows in the monster kicking footsteps of Mila Jovovich’s Alice from Resident Evil, but like that character, Selene is simply too glacial to actually register as a recognizable personality other than some who looks devastatingly cool as they shoot a gun in slow motion. Elsewhere, Scott Speedman as the human-in-the-middle doesn’t have much else to do other than be a walking macguffin with a nice haircut and the chemistry between him and Beckinsale is so thin it would need a spectrometer for it to register, but at least Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy are having fun as the opposing leaders of each faction as they put their vasty overqualified talents to use to ham things up nicely. Aside from that, everyone else plays strictly to type (vampires are foppish pricks, Lycans are jacked brutes) although there’s the odd familiar face lurking in the supporting roles (I see you Sophia Myles and Wentworth Miller).
Maybe the leaden characters and sluggish wouldn’t have been such a problem if Wiseman had some action scenes to match the visuals hes gleefully stolen from Blade, The Matrix and The Crow, but even that suffers from these supernatural beings acting as lithe and agile as Jerry Lewis whenever the sketchy fight scenes demand it. Take the scene where Selene is trapped in a hallway as a couple of Lycans scamper at her as they scramble along the walls; never minding the fact that she’s cornered because this ass-kicking vampire is somehow too slow to beat a human from shutting an elevator on her (nice bit of inhuman speed, that) but instead of fighting her way out, she chooses to shoot out a hole in the floor in order to drop down a lower level. No, that’s all very well and good, but the sheer amount of rounds it takes to get the job done (we’re easily talking hundreds) would surely be sufficient to take out the werewolves and the fact that the act is so overshot makes it more ludicrous than cool. Elsewhere the movie has another vampire fall of a slippery rung of a ladder into a puddle and yet another get into a face-off with a Lycan as he starts to lash the beast with dual, silver whips – but even this ends up as a disappointing bust when one of the whips actually gets snagged on a rock and clumsy sod is torn apart for his troubles.
Accident prone vampires aside, at least the Lycans, who look like insanely jacked-up bears, are threatening enough to be worth the effort although some of the digital effects betray the limited
There’s a better movie floating around in here somewhere, probably one that doesn’t feel like a poorly written videogame, but you feel it would maybe take someone like Gullimero Del Toro to really give the rich concept the due it rightly deserves.
Underworld? Try Underwhelmed.