The arrival of three big movies in a week at the Gaumont Parnasse multiplex made it hard to move inside tonight for people. I doubt many in the queues stretching far out into Odessa Street got seats at all.
The Kid (14) and I instead entered the ‘Underworld‘ in the late afternoon, our usual strategy when a lot of publicity heralds such films.
Straight off afterwards, she surprised me by giving it 9/10 (her second “great film” of the year).
Kate Beckinsale (Selene) looks fine in leather and proves as handy with a high-tech automatic pistol and assorted other weapons as Trinity, taking on the Lycans, to whom she’s a hardened death dealer, and some of her own vampire kind alike.
She’s swiftly enamoured of Scott Speedman as Michael Corvin, the surgeon with a secret he knows nothing about, which has him wanted, alive or dead, by both sides in a war between werewolves and vampires dating back to the Middle Ages.
Advance hype sold the Gothic action film as a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ variation in the domain of the undead, but ‘West Side Story’ stuck a darned sight closer to Shakespeare than this violent yarn, which begs the inevitable comparisons with the ‘Matrix’ suite. Were the likeness to be pursued, Selene has less in common with Trinity than with Neo, not being short on style and self-confidence when needed in the face of hair-raising odds.
What ‘Underworld’ lacks in the sexual charge and currents more or less explicit in Dracula stories, it amply makes up for with a breathless and outrageous plot, blood by the skinful, hypodermic syringes in diabolical close-up, some terrific special effects and as darkly atmospheric a setting, lighting and costumes as any movie made so far this century.
Len Wiseman filmed much of his first feature as director in Budapest with many a Hungarian in the crew, particularly in the art direction and make-up departments. His old central European capital remains oppressive, it’s raining most of the time and nearly everything happens in strong shades of the post-industrial blues, with lashings of Burgundy or body-bit red.
The main villain may be obvious from the outset — Shane Brolly in a mediocre performance as an aspiring and unconvincing chief vamp — but other characters get a chance to introduce enough new slants on the millennial war to jolt the plot into some unpredictable twists. Especially when they get woken up before their time.
Kevin Grevioux (iMDB bio), who co-wrote ‘Underworld’ and appears in one of the more ferocious manifestations of lycanthropy, conceivably takes most of the credit for holding the story together at all. It comes as no surprise to learn that Wiseman has made more than half a dozen music videos, since the all-action set pieces and flashbacks in this venture could be a string of them: an impressive but disappointing failure to make a whole greater than the sum of some of its parts.
I enjoyed ‘Underworld’ well enough, my senses being sufficiently bludgeoned for all two hours of it to stave off boredom, and appreciated Selene’s straightforward approach to foes and doors, which she considers best dealt with by a mighty kick or a hail of chemico-magical bullets, sometimes both.
But not even an unexpected side to Kate Beckinsale will make this a happily see-it again movie. ‘Underworld’ leaves the door wide open to a sequel. It’s not one I’d hasten to see unless somebody tells me that if Wiseman makes it, he’s bothered a lot more about character development, which leaves holes in the film as frequent as the ones Selene keeps on having to jump through.
While the Kid had no such objection, it would be nice if he also occasionally remembered that average loud to ear-splitting aren’t the only volume levels available.
Maybe she was more in the mood. She’d spent part of the afternoon telling me about the joys of Gothic metal, dosed here with deadly seriousness. This ‘Underworld’ is no laughing matter. Except, I fear, when the jokes are unintended.
A 6/10 would be pushing it.
The film got a rougher ride from Matt Moore.
The photos are pinched from Sony Pictures promotional material, via Allociné (Fr.)