[Full disclosure: I made Dan watch this film just so we could talk about it here. I LOVE this film. It’s not rational, but what about love is ever as such?]
Last week we posted our thoughts / discussion about Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II. This week Dan and I dissect Underworld starring Kate Beckinsale, Michael Sheen and Scott Speedman. Also, let’s note that my high marks for this film absolutely count towards the whole vampires winning part of this undeath match. Right?
Okay, so first things first. Why do you love this movie so?
[Cracking her knuckles because this will be looong]
When I first went to see Underworld in the theatre, it wasn’t my first choice, but someone who shall remain an acronym, namely my RRHB (rock and roll husband) sort of forced my hand. He’s seen every single horror movie out there numerous times and actually creates zombie escape plans for every single place we live. He grew up on Stephen King and Clive Barker. He spent Sunday afternoons curled up on the couch with his mom watching The Exorcist and any kind of spooky film they could rent. So all of my recent foray into scary (or somewhat scary) films that involve vampires, zombies or any other kind of undead (the infected in 28 Days Later, gross) comes from my RRHB “suggesting” we watch these films. And they freak me the fark out.
But Underworld is different. It’s one of those films that I watch over and over again, and never get sick of watching. Truly, a guilty pleasure because I know it’s not a great movie, but it has elements to it that I admire and enjoy. Because as my RRHB was growing up on gore, I was reading Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Jane Austen, Sweet Valley High and old Harlequin romances. I barely watched television and turned my nose up at anything approaching pop culture until I was in my mid 20s and discovered fun.
Right, so I’m talking about Underworld. What’s not to like about the movie? There’s enough cheese to make it kind of funny, enough blood to satisfy the action fellows, eye candy for both sexes, a plot that makes sense and actually evolves throughout and solid acting. That’s probably what I like the best — very serious, very good actors like Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Kate Beckinsale and my darling Scott Speedman elevating the material in ways that lesser players would not have been able to do. At its heart, Underworld (without the cheesy backflashes when the vampires “tune in” to one another’s memories) is a battle between good and evil, and no one really comes out the way you’d expect.
But I think Selene is a kickass female heroine. The typical female action stars from that time period were all stunt and no action, if you know what I mean (Angelina Jolie in those dreadful faux-Indiana Jones movies made me yak). Beckinsale’s a great character actor in a way, she commits to Selene’s warrior nature and plays the role straight up with a side of sexy. There’s development in her character and she doesn’t take any mysogynistic guff from Kraven, the utterly stupid fellow ruling the lair while Viktor slumbers.
Sure, the film has obvious flaws but what picture doesn’t?
Well, I’m glad there is at least a reason for your irrational love of this movie. I think you’re stretching it’s artistic merit though. Bill Nighy and Michael (Tony Blair) Sheen do their best (okay – they’re kind of great given what they had to work with), but Scott Speedman? Really? I’ve seen 2 x 4’s with more emotional range and gravitas! Granted the splutteringly awful Shane Brolly (Kraven) does make Speedman look like Robert De Niro by comparison, but I don’t think that’s saying a lot is it? And it’s not as if Beckinsale is a whole lot better. I mean she does manage to look glacially cool — and yes she’s not a typical action star (although she does have to be saved at the end!) — but you really are in trouble when your tight pants are the best thing in the movie.
Anyway, it isn’t TERRIBLE, which is saying something.
Come on! Her gun-wielding skills and swift landings are almost as good as her tight latex pants. And when she has her cool vampire eyes, it’s pretty wicked in terms of makeup. In a sense, I like “beginnings” when it comes to films — and always find that a lot of effort goes into making the stories interesting and kind of epic — like The Bourne Identity, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring for example. I kind of got really caught up in the beginning nature of the movie. The epic fight between the vampires and the lycans, the greed of the idiotic Kraven character, and the budding love story between Selene and Michael.
You are, obviously, not a girl. Scott Speedman gets caught in your heart just simply for his being Ben on Felicity. Add in his Canadian indie cred and his ability to truly rock the “sensitive guy” character and I’m hooked. Their relationship gets a little cheesy in the next movie, and don’t even get me started on how terrible the third one is, but I liked how everywhere you turned in Underworld something fishy was going on. The idea of betrayal is persistent and the whole linking of the bloodlines and revenge actually makes sense. On the whole, it’s like comfort food: frothy, a little sustenance, yummy morsels and not a lot of nutrition.
You have to admit that it does a great job of not creating the “usual” Hollywood vampires or pitting one of their kind against another — it’s really a story of a family unraveling, of a patriarch being unable to sustain the brood he’s created.
Okay. So I’m not hot for Scott. Sorry.
I didn’t find the romance the slightest bit believable… In a way I actually thought that Speedman was kind of redundant. I mean he’s just an excuse to find out that the most interesting character — Lucian — is actually still alive and that he’s this visceral threat to Selene’s family (even if it is not in the way you first think).
It really would have been a more interesting story if Speedman wasn’t in it.
I’m SO not a girl am I? LOL.
Anyway, I did like there that there’s a sense of a complete world (even if it doesn’t completely make sense!). They’d obviously thought about the history of vampires and werewolves and tried to create a backstory for the events in the movie. And I thought it was interesting that neither the decadent, violent, torturing vampires or the cloddish
bare-knuckle werewolves were particularly likeable and that it was only really the individuals — Selene and Lucian — who were in any sense redeemable.
It is also stylishly done, although the debt they owe The Matrix is pretty palpable. My-Better-Half (MBH) certainly thought so — she kept interrupting the movie to tell me!
YBH (Your better half) is utterly correct. The Matrix (in my mind) was one of those revolutionary pictures that changed the landscape of filmmaking and, for the most part, for the better, right?
That said, how can you say Scott Speedman’s character is redundant? He’s half-lycan, half-vampire by the end of the film and STRONGER THAN THEM BOTH. How else will you fight against an entire wicked race unless you create the absolute strongest creature possible? He’s the best of both worlds. And can kick serious ass. Without him the entire film kind of falls apart because he’s got the DNA that’s responsible for starting both the Lycan race and the Vampire race. Dude, those are hefty genes.
There were some secondary characters that were interesting too (like the Death Dealer that works with Selene, the fellow who develops the UV bullets), but I agree, it’s always that way in films like this — the expendables are never fully developed because they’re there just for the kill factor. For the action beat, for the need to hit a bit of excitement in between the plot development. However, when Lucian comes in and shouts at them for acting like a pack of “rapid dogs,” well, that was kind of cool. It set him apart from the rest and ensured that we realize that he’s a sympathetic kind of antihero if that makes any sense.
I guess I just really enjoy the campy nature of the film. It’s not a horror movie, which I appreciate, because it’s not that scary. It’s not totally an action film because there’s a lot more character development and story than usual. And it’s got an “alternative” love story that I find compelling. When Michael says, “I want to go with you.” And Selene clamps him down and makes him stay in that safe house, you think, “Yeah, she’s in charge.” Don’t you?
Okay, your turn to tell me what you think out of 10.
It is kind of hard to think of a action movie from the last few years that doesn’t owe a debt to The Matrix in some way or another. But maybe Underworld just wears that whole slo-mo shooting influence a bit too much on its snug leather sleeve?
And for me, Speedman is the MacGuffin in the movie — he’s moves the plot along, but the interesting stuff is happening around him in that weird, slightly oedipal triangle between Lucian, Selene and Viktor. I wanted to find out more about them rather than watching Speedman looking dopey.
Anyway, you’re right — Underworld is campy horror fun, even if it takes itself way to seriously. I kind of enjoyed it — just less than I thought I might.
For Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen giving the whole thing more gravitas than it deserves and for Kate Beckinsale’s tight pants, I think this is like 6 out of 10. How about you?
Considering I’ve already played my hand and said that I’ve seen this film 27 times and it’s one of my favourite good-bad movies, I’m going to have to give it 8.5/10.
All right, what’s next? Are we on to an actually good film now, 28 Days Later?
8.5 out of 10? Pff. Whatever. But hey, if you’ve watched it 27 times, I’m not going to argue (because clearly you are crazy). And yes, 28 Days Later next week…