Cert: 15 Runtime: 88 mins Director: Les Wiseman Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Michael Sheen, Shane Brolly amd Bill Nighy
An immortal battle for supremacy
The Underworld franchise is one of my guilty pleasures in cinema, Underworld Awakening is out this weekend so I thought I would refresh your mind back to 2003. The film starts with vampire and “death dealer”, Selene (Kate Beckinsale), telling us of the long running war between Vampire and Lycan and its unknown origins to how it all began. The vampire empire is controlled by three elders, two of which stay asleep while one remains above to rule, thus alternating every century. The current elder awake is Amelia (Zita Görög), while powerful and feared leaders like Viktor (Bill Nighy) and Marcus (later played by Tony Curran) reside in protected covens. These covens are run by the greedy and untrustworthy Kraven (Shane Brolly).The Coven is shaken when the Lycan begin hunting a certain human by the name of Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), for an unknown scientific purpose. It is shaken further when Selene believes that the thought-to-be-dead Lycan leader, Lucian (Michael Sheen) may very well be alive, and in league with Kraven. After rescuing Michael from both sides, Selene sacrifices her good name in the Coven to uncover the conspiracy. Selene awakens her father-figure elder, Viktor in order to bring justice to the treacherous Kraven. Unfortunately, at first, Viktor would not be able to look past her insubordination and disregard for the laws that he so heavily believed in. From there, the truth of the conspiracy unfolds, involving the creation of a hybrid, the betrayal of a colleague, and the descendant to the father of all immortals…Alexander Corvinus (later played by Derek Jacobi).
Let me start this review by saying that, while this work is NOT scary, it was not MEANT to be scary. This production was classed into the genre of “Horror,” strictly due to the “monster” factor. There are “tense” moments, to be sure, but this is not a “boo!” kind of movie. There is; however, plenty of action, lots of well enacted drama and wonderful realistic effects. I was actually amazed with the apparent lack of high-dollar effects, the almost Rice-ian Vampire clans lounging in the well designed lush and lavish “mansion,” the gritty tension held throughout the movie, and the stunningly clever costume designs. But what held me mostly in thrall were the effects.The effects were so well done, they were believable. They explain that the older Lycan can change at will, regardless of the moon’s cycle…with that in mind, the way the werewolves’ mandible bones FORCED themselves out and into place was dead ON. Changing at will would BE like that, especially in times of anger or great stress. Someone (possibly Wiseman?) had heard (and correctly believed) that “less is more,” because the effects were done in such a way as to appear REAL and not…simply more Hollywood “Matrix” flash. These scenes were so well done; so well directed, filmed and portrayed that we could, even if for a short time, believe the things we were watching…were possible. The wonderfully unique bullets used by both sides are absolutely brilliant. It reminded me if the horribly campy western/vampire movie made about 10 or 15 years ago entitled, “Sundown,” where the vampire hunters used wooden bullets.I am simply stunned to discover that this is Len Wiseman’s first attempt in the field as Director. Let me be frank. This is not a movie for the squeamish, nor is it a movie for those who like to be able to NOT concentrate on the plot. Sure, there is enough visual eye candy to keep most casual fans of the genre entertained, but there is also a very complicated and beautifully sinister plot and subplots going on beneath the flying bullets and shots of Kate Beckinsale’s butt in latex and leather.
The Shakespearean relationship between Selene and Michael (Scott Speedman) is well written and pleasantly portrayed, in the midst of all that darkness and drama. A bit of candle-light to shine hope into the darkness of despair, as it were. The story is an upgraded spin on a timeless classic, with enough additional plot and sub-plot to keep even the most common movie-goer interested. The war between the Vampires and the Lycan has raged for more than a thousand years. The Lycan, once the serving class to the Vampire, had risen against their masters and won their freedom. But was that the real story? Was their freedom truly the motivating force which stoked the fires of this war for this long? In the center of this war are Selene (Vampire) and Michael (Lycan). Their love of one another is forbidden by every Vampire Covenant written, but will that be enough to stop them from falling in love? As one of the chosen “Death Dealers,” an organization within the Vampire Clans trained and equipped to hunt and kill Lycans, Selene is faced with a decision most dire: sell out and live? or be true to herself and die? Will her loyalty to her ancient maker keep her from making the right choice? And that is where the sub-plot kicks into overdrive and makes you sit back and say, “Oh wow! No kidding?!” at the darkling twists in the plot, 7.7/10