UNDERWORLD, as you probably already know, is presented to us as the latest chapter in the eternal war that's been raging on between the ageless vampire race and their former servants, the lycans, or more commonly known as werewolves. But these are not the creatures you fondly remember from the old UNIVERSAL monster movies. No, these vampires and werewolves like to wear MATRIX-styled long coats made of black leather and they blaze away at each other with hi-tech firearms sporting snazzy bullets made of liquid silver or ultraviolet light. Even the more traditional mythos about them are thrown to the wind. The vampires, for example, cast reflections in mirrors and can be killed by more physical means such as beheadings or severe body wounds. The lycans are quite different too. The biggest change you'll notice about them will more than likely be their appearance. These guys aren't covered in fur and simply howl at the moon anymore. But they are supra-strong and can scale the hell outta a wall. Now before you begin to roll your eyes and curse the film for mucking up any of those "set in stone" monster legends, I believe these changes aren't all that bad. If anything, they make for a higher body count when the two species square off against each other. And that's what you gotta remember about UNDERWORLD. This is a movie about vampires fighting werewolves of all things. C'mon, where's your sense of adventure and fun? Without a doubt, UNDERWORLD is definitely what I call a "popcorn movie" and it doesn't try to be anything other than onscreen eye candy intended for an audience who likes to see mindless two-fisted gun battles, slow-motion aerial acrobatics, and melancholy pale people in gothic clothing. So trust me when I tell you this, UNDERWORLD does all THAT just fine.
Back to the story... UNDERWORLD starts off with a bang as the "Death Dealer" SELENE (played by the oh so lovely actress in skin tight leather, KATE BECKINSALE), a vampire assassin, catches us up to date with her narration that the vampire / lycan war may finally be at it's end. LUCIAN (played by actor MICHAEL SHEEN), the werewolf clan leader, has been killed. And the only task remaining for her and the other "Death Dealers" is to hunt down and kill off the last remnants of the faultering lycan race.
***Don't worry, that wasn't a spoiler for those who haven't seen the film yet. We're told this right from the start of the movie.***
Anyway, vampire clan head honcho KRAVEN (played by actor SHANE BROLLY) is in preparation for the eagerly anticipated "awakening" ceremony of an ancient vampire who will lead the various vampire houses into the new millenium. However, KRAVEN's desire for power and greed over the many years of his rule has made the current vampire society decadent and carelessly complacent so it's only natural that he's a tad bit uneasy and reluctant to give us his leadership role so soon without fear of some sort of punishment. And not only that, he's got a hard on for SELENE (can you blame him?!) who just won't give him the time of day. But when SELENE returns from her latest mission with news that the lycans are up to something big as a last ditch effort to win the war, KRAVEN begins to act alittle twitchy and this sets in motion a series of events that may lead to the ultimate downfall of the entire vampire species.
Enter MICHAEL (played by actor SCOTT SPEEDMAN), a seemingly average fella who unbeknownst to him, just so happens to be a direct blood descendant of the original centuries old werewolf king. And well, you can guess what's next, can't you? The lycans desperately need him but NOT for the reasons you might think. Too bad for them though, SELENE prematurely awakens uber-vampire VICTOR (played by actor BILL NIGHY), the vampire overlord that gave her the "dark gift" and as soon as he discovers what's going down, it's best to assume that he wants MICHAEL dead and SELENE must be the one to do the deed. Unfortunately, I gotta keep the movie's story kinda short to avoid too many spoilers because there are a few twists and turns and surprises in store for those who haven't had the opportunity to see the film. But needless to say, once SELENE gets mixed up in this mess, it's all bullets and monster mayhem from here on out that perfectly sets up for a sequel which I hear is already on the drawing board. So, there you have it, the fluff of movie magic at it's max, UNDERWORLD in a nutshell.
As the film's more technical aspects, UNDERWORLD is oddly quite pretty to look at with it's use of stark colorless settings and the camera direction is very friendly to the viewer's eye thanks to director, LEN WISEMAN. The film's main characters might tend to come off as alittle too depressingly somber at times and often lack a certain personal touch but since UNDERWORLD is essentially a KATE BECKINSALE vehicle, the other actors all did a nice job in their roles considering what they probably had to work with. And I personally thought actress SOPHIA MYLES who played ERIKA was the "wild card" of the bunch and stood out more than the rest in her small but interesting role. Well, other than starlet KATE BECKINSALE that is. But all that aside, in my opinion, UNDERWORLD does it's job of entertaining very well, even though I would have really liked to have seen many more MATRIX-esque throw downs and butt stompings. I tell ya, I'm just a sucker for that kinda stuff.
But alas, not everything's perfect with UNDERWORLD. First of all, the film itself seems like it's already right smack in the middle of it's epic age spanning story. I felt that it's kinda like seeing the second installment of a movie trilogy, if that makes sense. I mean, we're thrown huge amounts of info without any sort of explanation behind them. And it can REALLY put you in a unwanted mood where you begin to think that maybe you've missed something if you don't go into all this without a highly vivid imagination. Secondly, in my opinion, the movie's characters (as I commented on earlier) aren't appropriately represented onscreen with a satisfying "history" behind them. They're already there, in the thick of things, and you better come up with your own story for them. And sadly to say, a few of the major characters, namely MICHAEL, didn't even seem to have an actual personality at all. So lastly, which might be alittle too nit-picky, is UNDERWORLD's overall lack of gore and violence, especially since this is supposed to be considered an action / horror movie. I mean, where's all the red sauce? Don't BOTH of these supernatural monster races enjoy feeding on human beings? Or each other? And just because they're all running around with futuristic firearms, that doesn't necessarily mean that they can aim and hit their potential targets. It would be a daunting task indeed to attempt to count all the stray bullets that never made contact. I guess it's simply because the director wanted to see steaming empty magazine clips ejected unto the floor every other moment and new ones slapped into the guns.
Yet, there were a couple of things I thoroughly enjoyed about the movie myself. First of all, the fact that since the lycans were much larger and obviously physically stronger than their vampire foes, they just simply mauled the hell outta them in melee encounters. It was a pleasant change. And I believe that if the lycans weren't always fighting like animals amongst their own tribes, it would only be because the vampires had developed such awesome killing technology to combat them that they had managed to loose the upper hand in the war. Secondly, I really liked how you at first are under the impression that the werewolves and LUCIAN were the "bad guys" and that the vampires were supposed to be the "good guys" who are only trying to defend themselves from the lycans. Then you find out a few things to the contrary and you finally realize why they're all doing what they're doing. It was a niffty little ploy to get you to switch sides, I suppose. And last but not least, how can you NOT relish the experience of seeing KATE BECKINSALE as the sexiest vampire in horror history who was lovingly poured into a full bodysuit of formfitting skin tight black leather?!
So since UNDERWORLD is overwhelmingly undeniable "style" over "story", my advice, leave your brain at the ticket booth and let your imagination run rampant.