… and a few that weren’t so awesome.
I’ve been working on a little novella that is my homage to World of Darkness-style vampire v. werewolf urban fantasy. This weekend, I decided to re-watch Underworld for the first time in about five years, for research purposes.
Underworld, by critical accounts, was not a very good movie. But I’ve always believed it had the seeds of a good movie. And I always enjoy the first third of it. After that, I start yelling at the screen. But still, there is awesomeness to be mined here:
1. Michael Sheen Plays a Crazy AF Werewolf
Before he was David Frost or Dr. William Masters, he was … Lucian. A really angry Lycan.
2. Scott Speedman Spends Most of the Movie Soaking Wet
And here he’s literally in a car that’s underwater in a lake while it’s also pouring:
3. Super-Moody Visuals
4. No Matter How Far They Fall, They Always Stick the Landing
5. Fun Casting and Cameos
But then, alas, there are the less awesome things:
Scott Speedman only gets to say about 100 words
Don’t get me wrong; this may be a blessing in disguise. Only Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy have any luck working around some of the lines they are asked to deliver. But Scott Speedman’s character, Michael Corvin, is the supernatural football all sides are fighting over, and we never get to find out how he even feels about it. He’s usually either tied up/gagged, unconscious, hallucinating, or all three.
Now, there’s a valuable counterpoint to be made here: this is not Michael’s story, and it’s not supposed to be a typical white-boy Hero’s Journey arc. It’s supposed to be Selene’s story.
But that brings us to the larger issues of character development in the movie. Such as:
It’s somewhat difficult to like Selene
Girl don’t talk much. She’s got a crap attitude and a permanent case of RBF. Even her fellow vampires don’t seem to like her. She’s still mad about her family being killed by werewolves–six hundred years ago. Which means her only impetus is killing werewolves. Because she’s still mad. Six hundred years later.
This is the beginning and end of her character development.
If I was alive for six hundred years, I’d like to think I would take up at least one other hobby. Six hundred years is plenty of time to master a musical instrument, acquire a rudimentary sense of humor, or learn how normal fashion works.
Determining the main antagonist is a challenge
For a while it seems to be Kraven. He’s petty and stupid, has terrible taste in clothes and a terrible haircut–and in a cast full of brooding old Euro/British vampires, he’s bizarrely American. (Even though he’s, like, eight hundred years old.) (Also, the actor is Irish.) But he’s basically a big ol’ douchebag, and this makes it difficult to take him seriously. Thus, when Viktor later emerges at the real antagonist, you’re kind of relieved.
The problem is, Kraven should have gotten his comeuppance: for being a douchebag, for being an ineffectual villain, for constantly blocking Selene’s progress and being a creepy stage-five clinger–and for killing Lucian (Michael Sheen), one of the only truly sympathetic characters in the whole movie.
And he should be killed for this outfit:
But inexplicably, Kraven survives. No emotional payoff for sitting through his douchebaggery. Every time I re-watch the movie, I assume he will be dead about halfway through. I actually manufacture false memories of him being dead about halfway through.
Because he should have been dead about halfway through.
(Also: why is this what a vampire/werewolf hybrid looks like?)
Final Battle: Not So Epic
Some people get their faces eaten. Some people eat faces. There’s a lot of hissing. There’s a little guy with pointless metal whips:
Michael, covered in blue paint, gets into a slapfight with Viktor (Bill Nighy). Kraven, as mentioned, doesn’t die. And because they’ve failed to establish why we should care about Selene, it’s hard to track who you’re rooting for. It sort of feels like Michael should be the one to kill Viktor, since Viktor’s all BLAH BLAH HYBRID ABOMINATION RACIAL PURITY BLAH, and because Michael has been our POV (via hallucinatory flashbacks) into the whole cause of the vampire/Lycan war, which is basically that Viktor is a racist jackass.
But Michael mostly just spends his time wet and covered in blue paint, thrashing around and hissing. (Really–this movie contains a lot of hissing.)
The killing blow, delivered by Selene–seemingly invisibly–is a weird setup for a very long take of Bill Nighy standing there looking confused before his face falls off. Someone thought this was a great idea. And it worked, in a different way, for Breaking Bad.
But this movie, alas, was not Breaking Bad.
That said, you should still watch Underworld. Watch it for the over-the-top costumes, for the crazy supernatural weaponry, for Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy tearing through the corny dialogue and making it look easy, for the gorgeousness of Kate Beckinsale, for some cool stunts and wire-work, and for a myth-arc that was, all things considered, pretty well done.
But mostly, watch it for this: