The war beneath our streets: Underworld (2003)

I’m not sure this series is a good idea at all, to be honest. Still, I have recently rewatched them, and it is an 18 rated horror franchise, so I suppose it does fit my MO. Underworld is, on paper, a really great idea for a schlock series. It should, actually, be solid gold dumbhouse. A battle raging below the streets between two underground armies of Vampires and Werewolves should automatically be both incredibly cool and highly entertaining, and should promise blood by the barrel, tits, horror, graphic violence and a lead actress strapped into something ridiculously skin tight. Sadly, Underworld mostly wastes this premise, and all they manage to get right is spraying a catsuit onto Kate Beckinsale.

May contain a bemused cast of British Thespians and spoilers below

Born to wear this catsuit

This should be gold. It really should. In fact, that it isn’t gold is a touch irritating, and a waste of what should be a hilariously entertaining premise. Underworld opens with an absolutely cracking image: a leather clad Beckinsale crouching over the city Batman-style preparing for battle. This is inordinately strong, but simultaneously it gives a little clue as to what’s going to be one of the overwhelming problems of the film- the direction: it’s  trying to hard to be cool, is shot using a blue filter so it can be “moody”, and is overly stylized.

The opening of the new S&M bar in Kings Cross went down well.

Anyhoo, Selene (Beckinsale) is a “Death Dealer”, captain of a team of Lycan hit-vampires who have been ruthlessly exterminating the wolves. The war has almost ended apparently, with the Vampires standing mostly victorious due to the heroic murder of Lucian (Michael Sheen) by Kraven (Shane Brolly). However, the Lycans are up to something, frantically pursuing Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman). In the meantime, there’s intrigue amongst the Vampire clan, and Selene finds herself outlawed and on the run with Corvin, who turns out to be the last descendant of Michael Corvinus and therefore has the potential to carry human, Lycan and Vampire DNA simultaneously. The film goes through a series of gunfights, there’s lots of expositing, and then it builds into the climactic battle between Selene and Corvin v a resurrected Viktor (Bill Nighy).

Selene was never happier than when handling a loaded weapon.

Looking at that plot synopsis, it seems pretty apparent what one of the big problems here is: Underworld is overly complicated. The concept of a war between Werewolves and Vampires is naturally cool, and the idea of leather-clad Death Dealers duking it out with giganti-wolves below ground is also cool. However, the extraneous material simply sinks the film. It’s OK for Kraven, for example, to have been in league with Lucian from the start of the film, that’s fine. Furthermore, t’s also OK for the whole Human/ Hybrid as the Lycan’s final throw of the dice, again that’s fine. In theory, it’s also OK for there to be a dark secret at the core of Vampire society, and for Viktor to have massively betrayed Selene in the past, which she’s unaware of. Again, fine. What isn’t cool, is to try to mash all of these concepts together into one overarching film. That’s not fine, and not cool in the slightest, because it places a massive burden on the schlocky premise, and is frankly needlessly complicated. If you dropped, say, the Corvinus storyline and played it as a straight war between the Lycans and Vampires with the Viktor reveal then you’ve instantly got a better film (and no Speedman).

You can tell he’s evil, and has a cunning plan, by the way he’s stroking his chin

Furthermore, the film doesn’t know who the villains are. I’d argue that this should be a fairly simple little movie- Selene v Lycans in an orgy of bloodshed and asskicking. Fine, throw in a bit of betrayal from the Vampires, if you like, that’s also fine in this context. When the film goes haywire with the extraneous plot details it becomes hard to follow and more than a little bit boring. Moreover, character motivation isn’t properly worked out- why, for example, is Kraven helping out Lucian? He can only ever rise as high as deputy to the elders and therefore there is no reason at all for him to betray his coven. To compound matters, the film goes miles out of its way to paint Lucian in as sympathetic a light as possible. Yes, the twist is that Viktor is the actual villain, we know that, but the lengths the film goes to paint Lucian as some kind of tragic hero are absurd.

Huzzah! Gunplay!

The cast are all basically OK. Beckinsale, as has been oft-noted here, is a terrible actress, but she was born to play the emotionally stunted but stunning in skin-tight leather Selene. Frankly, her arse puts in an Oscar worthy performance by itself and is probably the greatest redeeming feature of the film. The rest of them, Sheen, Nighy et al are a tad confused, but Nighy does at least chew some scenery. The film also wastes Sophia Myles in a minor role, which isn’t really worth commenting on. Nevertheless, the whole acting effort is thrown into disaster levels by Speedman, who is a human plank of wood at the best of times, and sucks balls something fierce here. He’s dreadful actually, and doesn’t seem to be having any fun at all.

That’s some lovebite.

I started with a dig at Wiseman’s direction, and to continue on in this note, it’s obvious that he’s seen the Matrix far too many times to be healthy. It’s all shot to look “cool” and there’s overuse of a blue colour scheme that makes it difficult to distinguish the various locations. There are some show stopping action effects (Selene’s drop through the floor was the trailer choice), but they’re overly stylised, and as such feel artificial. That, in a nutshell, is what is basically wrong with the whole film- it doesn’t feel organic, there’s no heart to it and it genuinely seems to have been made by committee.

Overall, this is a bad film and an unauspicious start to a series. However with a production budget of only $22m and a worldwide box office take of nearly $100m, a sequel was always going to be inevitable. When I rewatched it recently I was just stunned by what a waste of a golden premise it is, being a boring, convoluted and over stylised mess that managed to leech any sense of fun out of the idea. I clearly don’t recommend this for any reason other than Beckinsale’s arse, and as such it can narrowly duck an Orangutan of Doom. However, by no stretch of the imagination is Underworld a good film, being, in fact, shite.

Next up is Underworld Evolution where surely Wiseman went on to right the mistakes he made here…

Until then,

Jarv

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

66 responses to “The war beneath our streets: Underworld (2003)”

  1. Droid says :

    I hate this movie. I’d OoD it. It’s astoundingly boring for such a packed with potential premise. The blue lens filter shits me off. The direction is terrible. I couldn’t give two shits about any character. And the performances are universally dreadful.

    100% OoD.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s awful. Terrible.

      However, Evolution is worse. I can’t go lower than the OoD, so I’m fucked. Basically, it’s a latex clad arse up from an OoD.

  2. tombando says :

    Zzzzzzzzz her Kurves in a KatSoot are all thats good here yes. Tried to watch it some time ago, just noise and yelling and rasslin’. They made 4?

  3. Just Pillow Talk says :

    Yup…tried way too hard to be kewl and was pretty boring.

    But my oh my what a magnificient ass….

  4. ThereWolf says :

    Good film, I really enjoy ‘Underworld’. I like the ‘Blue Steel’ look of it, Beckinsale in latex, decent action, some fruity dialogue for the likes of Nighy to get his chops round and the convoluted nature of the plot doesn’t bother me at all. Basically, all the things you don’t like it for, I like it for. 3/5.

    But you’re quite right about Speedman; he’s awful.

    Good stuff, Jarv.

  5. Anonymous says :

    you all talk crap and have no good taste in movies.

    • Jarv says :

      Er, yes. But that is rather the point.

      And I don’t care, Underworld still sucks.

    • Just Pillow Talk says :

      I believe we specialize in talking crap. We take pride in that.

    • kloipy says :

      I was mistaken that a good taste in films included bland, 16 year old Goth sentiments like the ‘Underworld’ series. Interesting

      • Jarv says :

        Well now we know.

        I don’t think that Anon is going to like the Evolution review very much.

      • kloipy says :

        Hahaha! Seriously how do you make a film as boring as Underworld? Oh yeah they made Clash/wrath of the titans

      • Jarv says :

        The thing with Underturd is that it’s such a waste of what should be a golden premise. Infuriating.

        The sequel has Beckinsale nudity and manages to be worse.

      • Droid says :

        Clash and Wrath are both miles better than any Underworld movie. And the fact that neither Clash or Wrath are very good explains it all.

      • Jarv says :

        They aren’t.

        Underworld 4>>>>> Clash. I don’t know about Wrath yet. Underworld 4 is proper dumbhouse and isn’t convoluted.

      • Droid says :

        I’ve not seen Underworld 4. I can’t imagine it being any good though.

      • kloipy says :

        I may be saying that because I just watched Wrath over the weekend. and by watched I mean I ‘watched’ about an hour of it before turning it off. I mean how the fuck can you make greek myth so boring? I didn’t give 2 shits about any character, the effects looked cartoony, and it was just goddamn boring

      • Jarv says :

        I hated Clash. Boring, Daddy-issues plagued crap.

        Hated all the characters, hated the story, and hated that they squandered the mythology so badly.

        Underworld 4, on the other hand, caught me by surprise.

      • Jarv says :

        The entire premise of Underworld 4 is even more stupid than Underworld 1. Seriously, it’s astonishingly dumb.

      • Droid says :

        Clash isn’t as bad as I thought it was. I rewatched it before Wrath, and it’s just kind of “there”. It’s not good, but it’s not the complete pile I thought it was the first time I saw it.

      • kloipy says :

        Jarv- did you see Immortals? I started it, haven’t finished it yet. It sure is pretty to look at but same problem, I feel nothing for the characters.

      • Droid says :

        Immortals is terrible.

        Wrath > Clash > Immortals > A kick in the jewels > Sucker Punch.

      • Droid says :

        I’ve seen Wrath. It was watchable. Not very good, but not unwatchable.

        Now, please explain to me how you can sit through the entirety of Sucker Punch yet turn off Wrath of the Titans. I am intrigued.

      • Jarv says :

        I’ll make it to the end of Wrath- no problem.

      • Droid says :

        That query was directed at Kloipy. I know you’ll watch it all. You’ll watch anything.

      • Jarv says :

        Well how rude!

        Clash was dogshit. Awful film. Orangutan of Doom all the way.

      • Droid says :

        HA! Hardly. There you go again with your liberal abuse of our sad friend.

      • Jarv says :

        I honestly hated it. I have a sentimental attachment to the original, and I love the myth, but I honestly can’t think of a way that Le Hulk cretin could have done a worse job.

      • Droid says :

        Here’s one that will amuse you…

        Le Hulk is worse than Clash.

      • Jarv says :

        No. It isn’t.

        It’s shite, but Clash was worse.

      • Droid says :

        I’m afraid it is. It’s a close run thing, but Clash pips Le Hulk. Neither film are any good though.

      • Droid says :

        I’d probably give Clash 1 chang and Le Hulk a half.

      • Droid says :

        A long quote on what PJ is playing at with The Hobbit.

        “That goes back to JRR Tolkien writing The Hobbit first, for children, and only after did he develop his mythology much more over the 16 or 17 years later when The Lord of the Rings came out, which is way more epic and mythic and serious. What people have to realize is we’ve adapted The Hobbit, plus taken this additional 125 pages of notes, that’s what you’d call them. Because Tolkien himself was planning the rewrite The Hobbit after The Lord of the Rings, to make it speak to the story of The Lord of the Rings much more. In the novel, Gandalf disappears for various patches of time. In 1936, when Tolkien was writing that book, he didn’t have a clue what Gandalf was doing. But later on, when he did The Lord of the Rings and he’d hit on this whole epic story, he was going to go back and revise The Hobbit and he wrote all these notes about how Gandalf disappears and was really investigating the possible return of Sauron, the villain from The Lord of the Rings. Sauron doesn’t appear at all in The Hobbit. Tolkien was retrospectively fitting The Hobbit to embrace that mythology. He never wrote that book, but there are 125 pages of notes published at the back of Return of the King in one of the later editions. It was called The Appendices, and they are essentially his expanded Hobbit notes. So we had the rights to those as well and were allowed to use them.” Said Jackson: “We haven’t just adapted The Hobbit; we’ve adapted that book plus great chunks of his appendices and woven it all together. The movie explains where Gandalf goes; the book never does. We’ve explained it using Tolkien’s own notes. That helped inform the tone of the movie, because it allowed us to pull in material he wrote in The Lord of the Rings era and incorporate it with The Hobbit.”</blockquote.

      • Jarv says :

        Le Hulk 1
        Foo Yung Hulk 1/2

        Clash OoD.

      • Droid says :

        Absurd.

        Anyway, I stole a glance at your confessions post. Fairly surprising list, but a few expected ones too. I don’t think there’s a single film on yours that is on mine, which is interesting.

        And as for accusing me of stealing Kloipys original idea, he actually stole it from someone else. So we’re all just paying it forward so that you can thieve it.

        Bastard.

      • Jarv says :

        It’s in your DNA.

        Honestly, while Le Hulk is bad, there’s no way it’s worse than Clash. I was actively angry at Clash, which I wasn’t at Le Hulk. I’ve given up trying to understand your love for Chow Mein Hulk. I think it’s just one of those mysteries of the universe.

      • Jarv says :

        I may rewatch Clash, because Le Hulk got a lot worse for me on Rewatch, and I wonder if Clash may get better.

        I doubt it though.

      • Jarv says :

        OK- Sand Sharks Scheduled. I’m feeling quite pleased with this, because I’m now up to the 30th with something on it.

      • Droid says :

        I don’t give a toss about Greek myths and all that stuff. So I wasn’t as prepared for disappointment as you probably. But i really like Lee Hulk so I was very disappointed by frenchies stab at it. Maybe that’s the difference.

      • Jarv says :

        Maybe. I’ve also got a real soft spot for the original from my childhood.

        I honestly hated it so much, it probably doesn’t deserve it, but it really bum raped the original, and then totally shat all over the myth.

        However, I couldn’t give a red one about the Hulk.

        I’m steeling myself for Dredd, which is either going to get a maximum or an OoD from me. There’s no middle ground.

      • Jarv says :

        That is surprising, though, because a lot of them on mine are nailed on. I wonder if I went into the near miss group- I bet there’s a lot of crossover.

      • Droid says :

        BTTF and Raiders are in mine. Adaptation too. The Castle.

        I’ll try to get a list set for when your post is up.

      • Jarv says :

        Cool.

        BTTF and Raiders were both in the tier down. I thought about them along with Requiem for a Dream and Life of Brian. The bottom 5 of my top 10 are really flexible though.

      • Droid says :

        I’ve just made a list off the top of my head. And I’m the same as you, 5 of them can switch out. There’s a good sized pool of films I love that could easily replace them.

      • Droid says :

        Did you end up seeing Prometheus?

      • Jarv says :

        No. It’s just not grabbed me at all. I feel totally meh towards it, and I don’t fancy splurging the cash on something I’m just so not fussed about.

      • Jarv says :

        Watched the Life of Pi trailer. Looks like utter shit, and it’s completely misselling it.

      • Droid says :

        Is that the Ang Lee movie?

      • Jarv says :

        Yes.

        Based on a SHIT book. It’s selling heavily on the shipwreck, but that’s the first chapter of the novel.

      • Droid says :

        Not especially interested in that one. I’ll check out the trailer when I get home.

      • Jarv says :

        It’s garbage. I’ve also come to the conclusion that I just don’t like Ang Lee films. Ice Storm excepted.

      • Jarv says :

        Started The Thing review. It’s a classic, but I’ve literally got nothing interesting to say about it. Pah.

      • Droid says :

        I imagine it’s a tough one to review.

        BTW, Jonah posted a review of that Tall Man movie at PCN.

      • Jarv says :

        Did he?

        I’ll have a look.

      • kloipy says :

        I never said I sat through Sucker Punch haha. I honestly made it about 10 minutes through Sucker Punch and that was enough for me to know what I would be getting into and I didnt want to waste any more time on it

      • Droid says :

        Ah, I guess I assumed you watched it all from your comments the other day. My mistake.

        I turned it off during or immediately after the giant samurai guy showed up. What a fucking stinker.

      • kloipy says :

        Yeah I would never stick up for Sucker Punch. It is kentucky fried shit. For some reason it seems like no one knows how to direct action scenes that much anymore

      • Droid says :

        There are still a few. Nolan is getting better. Cameron natch. The Beard does. Peter Berg does. Justin Lin does.

        Snyder doesn’t judging by historical evidence.

  6. Just Pillow Talk says :

    I like Clash and Wrath. Sure, they are forgettable the minute after you stop watching, but I was entertained while watching them.

    EONS better than Underworld movies.

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