Sunday, August 30, 2020

All Style, No Substance

Film: Underworld
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

Every now and then, a movie comes along and changes the game for everyone. You can tell this happens when it seems like everything for a couple of years references that movie. In 1999, that movie was The Matrix. Dozens of movies that followed did references to bullet time and other aspects of that movie world. Underworld is clearly an attempt to capitalize on the same sensibilities as The Matrix. I’d love to say that the vampire/werewolf plot aspects are a direct pull from the Twilight books, but this came out a couple of years before those books.

There isn’t a specific reference to bullet time in Underworld, but everything else seems to come directly out of the same universe filtered through there being vampires and werewolves. The story we’re told is that there is a long-standing feud between the vampires and the “lycans,” which is clearly an abbreviation of lycanthrope. We’re not going to call them werewolves; we’re going to go with lycans because it…sounds better? Cooler? Less stupid? Regardless, everything outside of the froufrou name for the werewolves is straight out of The Matrix. That’s everyone clad in leather, massive gun battles, people leaping around in ways that people in the real world can’t, and more. Oh, and it also has that washed-out black-and-white with steel blue look that so many science fiction movies seem to want to have. It’s not black-and-white, but it’s monochromatic, because…reasons.

So, long-standing feud. Like centuries long. Selene (Kate Beckinsale, and note that her name has lunar connections) is a vampire. She’s called a Death Dealer, which means that she hunts down (sigh) lycans and kills them. This world seems to be coming to an end, though, because the (sigh) lycans appear to be fading out. At least that’s what the thought is, but Selene and a few of her friends are ambushed by a group of (fuck me) lycans on a subway platform. They appear to be targeting a specific human. A couple of the vampires are killed by bullets that are somehow UV irradiated or something. Anyway, the (dammit, they’re werewolves) lycans get away. We learn that there are actually a lot of them still around and that they’re doing some sort of experiment, which accounts for the human hunting.

It’s all very complicated. The goal of the lycans (dammit!) is to reunite the two paranormal critter bloodlines, since evidently they all came from the same family/place at the same time. The head shapechanger (hah!) is alleged to have died long ago, but it turns out that Lucian (Michael Sheen) is alive and well and still plotting against the various factions of vampires. And naturally, the guy they are looking for to unite the bloodlines winds up in the care of Selene. And because we need something like a romance here to make anything work, Selene starts to fall for Michael (Scott Speedman), the human who was bitten and will soon become a lycan (I’m so done with this pretentious name and I’m using werewolves from this point forward).

What ensues are massive gun battles between the two factions. Gun battles. And bullets seem remarkably worthless in destroying either type of creature. Seriously, the vampires, using the werewolf bullet technology, create their own bullets loaded with silver nitrate. Silver is, of course, the traditional anti-werewolf substance, which means that one of the fuzzy critters tagged by one of these bullets should die, right? Yeah, not so much. Werewolf after werewolf takes handfuls of slugs and still keep going. At one point, one gets shot in the back/back of the head and manages to survive for a good ten minutes or so. Seriously, it’s the opposite of the problem I had in Blade. In that movie, touching one of the vampires with silver makes them burn up instantly. In Underworld, shooting a werewolf multiple times with bullets that shatter and pump silver nitrate into the wound sometimes inconveniences them for a few minutes. And so, because of this, the battles are protracted wars filled with machine pistols firing off hundreds of rounds per minute, and frequently hitting nothing. It’s a shitload of bombast with nothing to show for it.

And that’s the problem here. Underworld is desperate to glom itself on to the cool factor of The Matrix and didn’t really think too hard beyond “The Matrix but with vampires and souped-up werewolves.” That lack of creating anything much past the look and feel is really evident. Underworld desperately wants to be taken seriously and there’s nothing involved in it that is worth being serious about.

Why to watch Underworld: Black leather?
Why not to watch: This really wants to be a bunch of other, better movies.


  1. "...protracted wars filled with machine pistols firing off hundreds of rounds per minute, and frequently hitting nothing."

    I love it when a plan comes together.

  2. It's an OK film. It has its moments including its music soundtrack but it shouldn't have become a franchise.

  3. Totally agree with all your points.

    Counter-point: Kate Beckinsale.

    1. Eh. For a movie like this, you need Penelope Cruz to get me to care.