Back Shelf Beauties
When I first heard about Underworld, I was ready to stand in line. Vampires, werewolves AND Kate Beckinsale in tight leather pants!?!? Sign me up! I'd even pay to see that movie, and many of you will. Underworld was the movie that could be the surprise hit of the fall, but I'm not sure it has what it takes. On the surface, it looks like a cool, dark, gothic thriller, but some of the thrills are missing.
Beckinsale stars as Selene - a vampire trained to kill werewolves in a war that has been raging for centuries. We learn that werewolves have been on the brink of defeat for a long time, but Selene discovers that something is going on. As her despised leader, Kraven (Shane Brolley), is about to unite two factions of vampires, it turns out that the werewolves are chasing after a mysterious human, Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), and regrouping.
Why do the werewolves want him? What are they up to? Can Selene figure it out in time?
Underworld has a bunch of plot twists and intricacies that are very cool, but director Len Wiseman shoves them all towards the end. Instead of slowly building to a major climax, Underworld starts with a great fight scene, very slowly explains the story to us, starts a love story between Selene and Michael, and then starts firing plot twists at us like a machine gun.
The revelations cause a great deal of confusion and doubt in Selene, which makes for a great movie and interesting character, but it's too much at one time. Maybe Wiseman doesn't deserve all of the blame. When I see there were three writers (Ken Grevioux, Wiseman and Danny McBride), it makes me wonder if too many cooks were trying to stir the pot. Moderation would have kept the movie interesting from start to finish.
Beckinsale is great in a role that challenges at some points, but forces her to make something happen when the story has nothing for her. It's a great physical and emotional challenge for Beckinsale, and she is quite up to it, when she has something to work with. Unfortunately, her supporting cast isn't very special. Speedman is fine as the mystery man, but he never does much more than brood. Michael Sheen as Lucian is a weak nemesis, and another character (who I won't name because it ruins the movie for you), who is supposed to be all-powerful, isn't very imposing.
My last comment might be viewed as petty, but I think it's an important thing to consider. In this dark, gothic, very cool looking movie, all of the characters drive weenie-mobiles. Hello! Why isn't Selene riding around town on an awesome motorcycle? Why don't the werewolves have Porsches or Lamborghinis? If Wiseman wants the audience to be taken with this dark, fantastical tale, then the characters need to drive something cooler than Mercedes and Audis. Every aspect of a character shapes the impression that the audience has of that character, so everything counts from clothes to the dialogue to the haircut to what they drive. What is Batman if he drives a Toyota Echo? Get my point?
Underworld has the makings of a great movie, and even gives us the plot for a sequel if one is made, but the puzzle pieces need to be put together better, and the supporting characters need to be more interesting. Grade: B-
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