14 years and 4 films ago, Underworld, the first film in what would become a 5 film franchise hit the film scene in 2003. I don’t remember it being that good back then, but I’ve learned a lot since the cinema trip I made with school friends all those years ago.
Unfortunately nearly everything I’ve learned since then has ensured Underworld won’t be creeping up in my estimations any time soon. A tale of forbidden loves, loyalty, and tradition accumulate to little more than an overblown waste of potential.
As you might have guessed I can remember the trip to the cinema to watch Len Wiseman’s directorial debut, my friends and I were spread out across a small area of a screen that belonged to the cinema chain I now find myself working in. We were quiet for the most part, then at the climax Vicktor (Bill Nighy) got his head cut in half; the top of his head slipping off to the side. My friends laughed, I was gravelly disappointed. The shiny and poorly detailed CGI of this moment encapsulated pretty much everything the film was. A glossy yet hollow action horror barely held together by the thread of something bigger.
I was 16 at the time, and I’d say the target demographic for the film and it was way wide of the mark. Despite my age I was pretty experienced in the horror genre, especially slashers and monster movies; the latter of which the creatures of Underworld belong to. Before this I’d seen the likes of The Lost Boys, From Dusk Till Dawn, Blade, Blade II, Near Dark, Dog Soldiers, and Ginger Snaps. As a result I had an idea of how effective and scary these movie monsters could be, and there was barely anything in Underworld that represented those ideas. However it wasn’t until I watched it again recently that those things really stood out. At no point in the film does a vampire actually harvest on blood, they just occasionally bite themselves. As for the lycans they only turn to wolf form when the going gets tough, which begs the question why not just transform straight away if it means winning? I can understand not turning when in the presence of humans out on the streets, but when they aren’t? The idea that these creatures of the night would rather shoot at each other rather than rip each other to shreds in their true form is just silly. Sure using guns means they get to make cool looking UV bullets and bullets infused with silver, but who wants to see that instead of them eviscerating each other? And before I come off this point, why in gods name do the vampires only just create a bullet with silver nitrate at the end of the film? Surely they knew that creating bullets made with silver would be more effective than your average bullet…
Anyway looking past this is difficult but when we do we’re confronted with some rather vanilla acting that we painfully can’t ignore. Whether it’s Scott Speedman’s just here to look pretty role of Michael or Shane Brolly’s incessantly annoying Kraven, when we don’t have Bill Nighy, Kate Beckinsale or Michael Sheen in our sights it’s all just a bit boring. That being said there is one element that Underworld should be praised for that still holds up to this day, and that is its mythology. Kevin Grevioux, Len Wisman, and Danny McBride (not the one you’re thinking of) did a damn fine job of creating an interesting vampire and lycan culture that extended much farther than the usual monster origin story. The covens and hierarchy of the vampires has an air of evil monarchy to it, whilst the lycan’s struggles echo many an uprising where the enslaved fight back. Sadly, the rich backstory serves only as a stage for the main performance of a dull love story. Which by the way is so hastily developed that even in a world of vampires and werewolves it’s far fetched.
It can be quite satisfying to go back and watch a film that you may not have understood, or missed something from. Clearly though Underworld is not that type of film. If you never realised the burgeoning potential of the films mythology by all means go back and check it out, but you’re going to have to sift through a ton of lycan shit to get there.
Snooty Usher Dan signing off.