SELENE: Whether you like it or not, you’re in the middle of a war that has been raging for the better part of a thousand years. A blood feud between vampires and lycans. Werewolves.
The 2003 classic Underworld, like so many excellent genre movies, starts out with a simplicity that threatens to run into the mundane. Vampires and werewolves have been at war for centuries and that conflict continues today. Cue a series of increasingly bloody battles between the two in exciting modern locales and you have Blade with werewolves and a leather-clad, super-hot Kate Beckinsale. Honestly, they probably would have been onto a winner with just that.
But unlike the worst entries in the genre (I’m looking at you, Van Helsing), Underworld turns a simple premise into a solid foundation and comes up with a tale which is more interesting for its political intrigue than it is for the predominantly well-choreographed fight scenes. There’s a secret deal between the vampire aptly named Kraven (Shane Brolly) and the leader of the Lycans, Lucian (Michael Sheen); the awakening of a fabulously mean vampire elder Viktor played by Bill Nighy (who is fast replacing Christopher Walken as the king of the minor, though pivotal, role); and the womanly machinations of the terrifically ambitious Erika (Sophia Myles).
I first watched Underworld when my son was three weeks old. Appallingly sleep deprived, awake at 4 am, this movie is forever tinged with delirium for me. Having re-watched it more than once since, an element of confusion remains, which in many ways adds to why I like it. Kate Beckinsale’s Selene is the good soldier, loyal to the elders and the most committed killer of Lycans. Without a single change of facial expression, she falls in love with a human, then continues to protect him when he turns into a Lycan, even to the point of killing other vampires. After a quick word from the now treacherous Kraven she withdraws her loyalty, her patriarch Viktor admits he killed her family (despite managing to keep the secret for six hundred years) and she kills Viktor, the very elder she awoke in order to protect her coven. Still without a single movement of facial muscles.
I like to think that all this merely enhances the mystique of our dour hero; that she can make momentous or foolhardy decisions with the same implacable face despite the emotions coursing underneath. This way Selene stands with the long line of heroes who made the tough choices despite high personal cost (like Buffy sending Angel to Hell, or Sarah Connor giving up her parental rights, or Spidey… well, doing anything ever).
Otherwise we are left with only two choices. Either Kate Beckinsale belongs to the Jennifer Love Hewitt school of acting (find one look, maintain indefinitely) or the plot of Underworld does not actually make all that much sense. I am fairly sure the first option is false because Beckinsale manages to show plenty of emotion in Much Ado About Nothing when her character, Hero, is dumped by the ludicrously gullible and naïve Claudio. And it would be unfortunate to accept the second option, even though there is a niggling feeling that maybe characters true to their history would have acted quite differently. Why Viktor admits to killing Selene’s family continues to baffle me.
Still, watch this movie if you haven’t already. Watch it for the clever plot, some fabulous characters and an extremely satisfying final action sequence. But as with so many genre flicks, try not to think too hard about what is happening in front of you because in the end, a little too much credulity is asked of Selene—and, it must be said, the audience.