by Lillian Csernica on April 24, 2015
It was a bit of a stretch to find a movie that fit today’s letter. Sword & sorcery at its most literal is somebody armed with a sword going up against somebody armed with magic, right? Magic is a tricky, slippery, changeable force. It can be very difficult to tell where magic ends and what we call science begins.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
In Underworld, the heroine Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is the adopted favorite of Viktor (Bill Nighy), one of the three Vampire Elders. The vampires and the “Lycans” (short for lycanthropes, i.e. werewolves) are at war. Selene is one of the “Death Dealers” who go out looking for werewolves to kill. As the story opens, she and her patrol happen upon some werewolves who are following what looks to be an ordinary human guy. When the vampires and the Lycans face off, bullets start flying. The vampires’ bullets are filled with silver nitrate. The Lycans have found a way to create ultraviolet bullets, so they’re shooting hollow point sunshine. Selene really wants to know why the Lycans have taken such an interest in this particular human.
Meanwhile, back at the fancy mansion where the vampires hang out looking bored and chic, there’s skullduggery afoot thanks to Kraven (Shane Brolly), the vampire who’s minding the store until the big Awakening Ceremony in two days when the Vampire Elder Marcus will rise. Kraven is a real Type A personality, bullying Selene and stomping around like he owns the place, which is what he intends to do.
There’s a lot of running around in tight black leather and corsets, racing around in the rain, and people shooting at each other. When this isn’t going on, there are chunks of expository dialogue that explain why the Lycans want to get their claws on this human, Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman). They need his blood. Lucian (Michael Sheen) is in charge of the Lycans. Talk about a bad case of Small Man Syndrome. What he lacks in height he makes up for in attitude, outstripping Craven by a mile. Lucian is the first to bite Michael, an event that will have far-reaching consequences (as in three more sequels).
The moon is now full, putting poor Michael through the agonies of his first change. Attendant upon his development as a werewolf are flashbacks that tell us the viewers why Lucian and Viktor hate each other. In these flashbacks Viktor is armed with a very respectable sword. The idea here is that Michael has ingested Lucian’s memories along with his saliva or whatever got transferred with Lucian’s bite.
Selene knows something Really Bad is about to happen, so she takes matters into her own hands and awakens Viktor so she can tell him what’s going on and find out what she should do about it. We are now treated to a combination of Christopher Lee meets Bane as Viktor recovers from being a dried up corpse in an upside-down casket. Fans of clockwork will get a kick out of this sequence.
Poor Selene. She means well, and one gets the impression she has something of a soft spot for Michael, but she has broken the Covenant by waking Viktor up. Apparently it’s Marcus’ turn to be in charge and the three Master Vampires are very strict about making sure each of them gets his time above ground. Viktor’s all purpose solution to problems such as Michael is to kill him. If Selene runs along and takes care of that little chore, all is forgiven.
Meanwhile, there’s a train arriving with Amelia, the third Vampire Elder, and her retinue. They don’t really matter much, because the werewolves ambush them and rip them apart. One would expect better of upper management vampires, especially those traveling into a location that is already having problems severe enough to merit calling this council.
Selene brings Michael back to the vampires’ mansion which sends Viktor into a complete tizzy. If there’s one thing he hates more than werewolves, it’s a werewolf hybrid. By now Viktor is fully restored to all his undead glory, complete with fancy robes and an interesting make-up job. Out comes the big sword as the vampires and werewolves go at it for Last Monster Standing. The CGI crew pulls out all the stops for some impressive transformations, Matrix-type stunts, and the predictable carnage.
This movie is a lot like the middle of one of those dreams where you’re running around searching for something. You don’t know what it is, you don’t know where you are, but you’ve got to find it before something really horrible happens. Then you wake up, and you never find out how the dream ends. So it is with Underworld. I’m not sure if the producers had a long range business plan that involved a total of four movies. I suspect that was not the case. Given the Rotten Tomatoes rating for Underworld (31%), and the negative reviews, it’s not surprising that Underworld: Evolution got a 16% rating and even worse reviews.
As I said, calling this sword & sorcery is stretching the term to encompass elements of horror that tip the scales in favor of that genre. Even so, Underworld is worth one watching. If seeing Kate Beckinsale in a corset, skin tight black leather, and Neo’s duster doesn’t thrill you, maybe you’ll enjoy the spectacle of Bill Nighy in purple eye shadow.