A Film Review By The Mike
|Rating:RATED R for Language and Violence
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, and Robbie Gee
Directed By: Len Wiseman
I believe it was Rocky & Bullwinkle that once taught me one of the more valuable lessons in life: Never put the cart before the moose. I forgot this lesson lately though, allowing myself to become extremely psyched for Underworld, which looked like one of the more guilty pleasures in recent memories. The first responses from more established critics brought doubt to my mind, and I ended up heading into the theater with my hopes killed. This wore on me a little, even as the film started, but luckily the moose soon caught the cart. I quickly realized, that they were all wrong, and Underworld proved to be a fun ride that was worth every minute of my time, despite underachieving a little against my lofty expectations.
The premise is what had hooked me long before I’d even seen a trailer for the film. Modern day Budapest is being ripped apart by a war, between the ancient clans of the Lycans and Vampires. The vampires seem to have the Lycans on the ropes, thanks to the death of Lucien, the Werewolf hero, and the efforts of their Death Dealers, led by the ferocious Selene (Beckinsale).
Things are not what they seem, however. Lucien is not dead. The current Vampire leader, Kraven, seems to be inefficient, and Selene realizes the Lycans are tracking a human named Michael (Speedman) who may be more than human. This may require her to bring back Vampire Lord Viktor earlier than expected, which would do something to break the covenant or what not. I’m not sure what it all means either.
The thing I enjoyed about the story of Underworld is the manner in which the characters were written. Everyone in the film, except for Kraven, functions like they are intelligent, a trait rare in horror or action films of late. There’s a wonderful scene where Selene explains the war around them to Michael. Instead of one of the cliched denials that we’ve seen in so many movies (“That’s not Possible!!!!” or “But Grandma said there are no Werewolves!!!!”), we see a quick series of flashbacks in Michael’s eyes, events he’s seen that confirm the story he’s just been told. Such an acceptance is a rare and fresh treat, and one that I thought gave the film an extra dimension that worked well. Most of the key players perform in this manner quite well, and the cast as a whole was a pleasant surprise to me, with one glaring exception.
There are many flaws in the story, especially the under-developed love story and the obvious sequel-promoting ending. The film drags a little in the first hour, and the actor portraying Kraven gives one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen. Does any of this matter?
Not really, as the film simply looks too good to condemn. I easily recommend it as one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in years, with perfect settings and lighting in all scenes. The darkness of the film fits its tone perfectly, and the action sequences are great, except for the cheap finale-ending blow that we’ve seen before. The technical aspects of the film amazed me throughout, especially considering the $23 million budget that the film was made on. I would give this film a recommending grade on the look alone, even if it had no plot whatsoever and all the actors were replaced by squirrels. The addition of a plot that interested me and the surprisingly solid work of the cast adds to the pleasure, and I see no reason not to recommend Underworld as one of the most fun fantasy films in years. Check it out.