With the world divided lately between Team Edward and Team Jacob (oy oy oyyyy, save me), I thought it time to look at a previous vampire/werewolf movie series. One that also involved a central love story between vampire and non-vampire along with some touches of undead politics. I am, of course, referring to the Underworld trilogy, a trio of movies often found in boxset form in the sales and (in my opinion, for what it’s worth) most definitely worth the few pounds it’s normally priced at. The discs all come with a plethora of extras including commentary tracks, deleted scenes, music videos and much more. Anyway, on to the films.
Underworld (2003): Vampires and lycans (werewolves to you and me) have been warring against each other for years. But things may soon come to a head if the lycans get their way and find a direct bloodline descendant from a rather important guy who may be able to take on both lycan and vampiric qualities and become some kind of . . . . . . vamcan/lypire creature. Caught in the midst of this chaos, vamp Selene (Kate Beckinsale) has to think on her feet and start mistrusting many things she had long been taking for granted.
Underworld is not a great movie for horror fans. It’s also not really a great movie for action fans. Falling somewhere between the two, while fulfilling the requisite for neither, it manages to stay above average thanks to some fun performances, decent effects and a style that rushes right to the edge of every frame.
Beckinsale walks/runs/strops around in tight leather – good enough for me. Other vamps (including Shane Brolly and Sophia Myles) look as if they’re waiting to be called up for their big break in an Evanescence video – again, good enough for me, especially regarding the delectable Miss Myles (aka one of my future wives). Michael Sheen looks at the ground before flicking his eyes open wide a lot – which he is, at least, very good at doing. Bill Nighy brings an authority and grandiosity to the authoritative and grandiose role of Viktor. And Scott Speedman looks understandably bemused and worried as his character is pursued by creatures he previously did not know existed. The werewolves growl, the vamps hiss and Wentworth Miller mills around waiting for Prison Break to make him a huge star.
While it’s maybe a little bit dreary in places, slightly po-faced and overly plodding when things could be rattling along at a much faster pace there’s a lot to enjoy here and it’s to director Len Wiseman’s credit that he does actually take the time to let the story unfold, develop characters and enjoy the atmosphere. FX-wise, there are some great little touches (the vampires landing cat-like on their feet after jumping from high places, the fight scenes) but it’s just a shame that the “hulk-out” werewolf transformations were not as well-realised as they could have been because that would have really raised the rating by at least a point.
But did I mention Kate Beckinsale wanders about in tight leather?
Underworld: Evolution (2006) – Well hell, it may not be The Godfather Part II or anything but let me start by saying right away that I actually prefer this sequel to the first movie. It ticks all of the boxes good sequels should and provides almost twice as much stylish action (well, it seems like twice as much) as the first movie did.
Kicking off almost immediately after the end of Underworld, after a bit of character establishment in an impressive opening sequence set centuries ago, this time Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman) are on the run together from the outset. But with no Bill Nighy on hand to lord it over proceedings who will be the main bad guy? That would be Marcus (played by Tony Curran) a winged, powerful vampire who can read the memories of those he feeds on and the one memory he’s particularly wanting is the location of his lycan brother’s prison, a place long kept secret for good reason. And so it transpires that Selene and Scott find themselves charged with stopping Marcus from releasing his brother and subsequently racing against the coming sun, big bad Marcus and numerous other pesky people determined to stop them getting on with their lives.
Director Len Wiseman (who also gave us the first movie) really sets out to entertain here. The main characters are carried over from the first movie so there’s less exposition required. The plot is actually rather slight, despite the stylish embellishments. It’s almost as if the quite languid first movie was just a spring being wound up and ready for release in the form of this enjoyable sequel.
Beckinsale wears the sexy outfit again and looks moody (and, even better, at one point she DOESN’T wear it . . . yayyy), Speedman gets some decent action sequences and does a lot more than the passive running he did for most of the first film and Curran portrays a fantastic, unrelenting baddie who you actually can sympathise with in some small way.
Then there are supporting roles for the likes of Derek Jacobi and Steven Mackintosh, two superb actors from different generations of the craft.
But most of all, putting aside the acting and writing and camera shots and extra little touches, this is all about action and provides from almost start to finish. It’s a furry, fanged juggernaut of a movie and provides some great set-pieces en route to a finale you can see coming from the first act. If you liked the first movie then I see no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy this one at least just as much.
Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans – The third movie in the Underworld series is a prequel, focusing this time on the forbidden love between bigshot vamp Viktor’s daughter, Sonja, and the nominal lycan leader, Lucian. Like Romeo & Juliet but with fur and fangs instead of simply different surnames.
Bill Nighy returns to play Viktor and Michael Sheen returns to play Lucian, which should please fans of those two actors. Rhona Mitra plays Sonja and she does okay in the role though looks less suited to the vamp effects than the lovely Miss Beckinsale did. Nighy, it has to be said, plays his role much like he played his faded rock star role in Love Actually while Sheen gives a decent performance in a rather thankless part thanks to his character often being overshadowed by the variable computer effects used to turn him and his followers into snarling werewolves. Steven Mackintosh reprises his role from the second movie but doesn’t make as good an impression while gravel-voiced Kevin Grevioux commands attention thanks to his sheer physical presence.
Story-wise, it’s all quite dull and distinctly lacking in any surprise due to a) us already knowing how the characters appear in the first movie and b) nothing really original being thrown into the mix by people who seem simply to want to provide the safest, blandest addition to a series that should have really ended after two decent movies.
The action sequences are muddled, frenetically edited and unexciting. The CGI is overused and quite painful in places, especially when compared to some of the, sadly underused, practical effects that manage to impress when given a chance. In fact, the whole thing feels as if your watching a computer game demo based on the backstory of the first two movies. Which is, sort of, what you are doing. Considering director Patrick Tatopoulos has a background in effects work, he really should have known better.
DIRECTORS: LEN WISEMAN, PATRICK TATOPOULOS
STARS: KATE BECKINSALE, SCOTT SPEEDMAN, BILL NIGHY, MICHAEL SHEEN, TONY CURRAN, RHONA MITRA, DEREK JACOBI, STEVEN MACKINTOSH, KEVIN GREVIOUX
RUNTIME: 133 (EXTENDED EDITION)/106/92 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA/NEW ZEALAND (RISE OF THE LYCANS)