Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why Did Underworld Generate A Sequel?! (And A Franchise)

The Good: Idea, Visuals
The Bad: Acting, Character, Plot developments
The Basics: A vampire who hunts werewolves befriends one and uncovers a series of truths that should rock her very beliefs, but instead fall flat with little character and no redeeming acting.

It took me a little while, but I finally figured out why I was so disappointed when I saw Underworld. It's a pretty simple reason and for those of you who haven't seen the movie, I can save you that amount of time out of your life by telling you it straightaway: the protagonist in Underworld, a vampire named Selene is either an idiot or woefully misinformed. That is to say that in the opening of Underworld, Selene tells the audience a bit of information about vampires, werewolves, and their centuries-old war. The rest of the movie is all about how everything Selene tells us in the first moments of the movie is wrong.

Selene is a vampire who is charged with hunting down and killing werewolves, a death dealer. She does her job fairly efficiently in the underground, but when she realizes two werewolves were after an apparently ordinary man, she begins to suspect he was anything but ordinary. As she fights to protect Michael, she begins to fall in love with him, though his true nature soon becomes evident. Selene and Michael, through investigating Michael's origins, uncover an ancient conspiracy and become targeted by both sides.

The main, most powerful problem with Underworld is that it creates a mythology and then within two hours completely undermines every piece of it. When one is establishing a fictional universe, one needs to establish what the principles of that universe are. If there aren't rules to guide the nature of any given fictional universe, then you end up with nonsense and that is what Underworld feels like most of the time.

That's not to say it is all bad; no, for one it is a very easy movie to watch. Selene looks good, the fights are exciting and the computer imaging work looks good. This is a movie that capitalizes on style. The costumes are wonderful and there is a decent amount of atmosphere, making it visually stimulating.

The problem is there is little or nothing backing it up. Sure, it looks intriguing, but the plot is totally unengaging once the first conceit Selene listed at the beginning is broken. And as the movie progresses and all of her notions seem to come tumbling down, the film goes from mediocre to worse.

The problem is in the characters. The two main characters are boring, ignorant and naive. Selene seems to be a good killer, but she has no personality outside that. Thus, when she begins to learn that many of her ideas and beliefs are false, she could have a compelling crisis of character. Instead, she simply goes on killing without any real consideration of the consequences of the werewolf/vampire war and what it is becoming.

And Michael is no better. Michael is a puppet played with by pretty much everyone and tugged along by Selene for the bulk of the movie. He has no real personality, he could be anyone, it is the part - the symbol - that he plays that is important. That is to say that the writers of this piece put Michael in to fill a specific niche in their plot. Unfortunately, they did not give him actual character, so he feels more like a piece in a puzzle than a genuine individual.

Add to the utter lack of character the complete absence of quality or convincing acting. Unlike something like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, where the actors grow into their quirky parts, Underworld has no such luxury. Thus, Kate Beckinsale never sells the viewer on being either a death dealer or hundreds of years old. She seems like a young woman playing a part and she never evolves into the skin of the character.

Similarly, Scott Speedman, who plays Michael never convinces the viewer that there is anything more to his character than exactly what we see on screen. It's disappointing because what is visible on screen is little more than a meat puppet. It's unfortunate that Underworld started with such a poor script as to give the players so little to play with.

In the end, Underworld promises a dark, mysterious war with an intriguing premise, that vampires and werewolves have been waging a private war under our noses for the last hundred years. Unfortunately, it does not live up to any of those promises.

For other works with vampires, please visit my reviews of:
The Twilight Saga - Breaking Dawn Part 1
Let The Right One In


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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