The great thing about B-movies is that they don’t have to be perfect to be a creative success. Writer and director of Underworld Len Wiseman (Independence Day) knows this aspect of the genre, and though Underworld is no B-movie, the film assumes that style over substance can be appropriate. In the case of many formulaic plots and forced characters, as with Underworld, style over substance is exactly what is needed.
Amid the buzz on this film are accusations that it looks too much like other movies, such as The Matrix. In response, Wiseman points out the similarity in style The Bourne Identity had with The Fugitive, which was released in 1993.
Nobody has a problem with that similarity because the style isn’t stark. In fact, Wiseman’s style in this movie is not original; it just has so many direct influences that it can be hard to keep track. In considering Underworld, these movies come to mind: American Werewolf in London, Blade, Blade Runner, Batman, The Crow, Hellraiser and Dark City.
The most prevalent influence in style and spirit, by far, was indeed The Matrix. Selene (Kate Beckinsale), the heroine of Underworld, is just like Trinity from The Matrix in her attitude, manner of speech and guns-in-both-hands acrobatics (except for her landings and her trench coat, which is so much like Brandon Lee in The Crow).
Unlike these movies, Underworld pits vampires and werewolves as families feuding against each other. This idea opens all sorts of avenues and the movie explores a few dynamics. Vampires are an aristocratic class in this film, and the werewolves were formerly their slaves. The war started when a werewolf, Lucian, impregnated the head vampire’s daughter almost 1,000 years ago.
Underworld is not too consumed by the clichÃ©s attached to these classic monsters, but the vampires do reinvent the silver bullet when killing werewolves by using silver nitrate bullets.
The werewolves use UV-irradiated bullets to kill vampires.
The problems leeched onto this film are severe. Beckinsale and Scott Speedman play the two main characters, but have no believable chemistry in their forced, Romeo-and-Juliet type of romance. Michael (Speedman) seems as naÃ¯ve as a 10-year-old when he asks why Selena hates werewolves. Does it make sense to ask Selena why she hates werewolves if they’re trying to literally tear her body apart?
Indifference toward characters makes it hard to carry the plot, which is also sluggish because of its predictability. The movie is not terribly original, but it is fun to watch vampires and werewolves using their powers to kill each other. One scene had a vampire twirling his silver studded whips at a huge werewolf, which was mesmerizing until the big werewolf simply overpowered the smaller vampire.
The style-over-substance routine works for the first 45 minutes, and then the soap opera of explanation, however necessary, slows the shameless action.
The influences on this film are many. Unfortunately, they extend only over the visual aspects of it and not on the content. The lacking script, while entertaining, fails to bring to the table all that is offered in the beginning of the movie. Underworld does not follow in the steps of all its influences, trying to keep up with the pace but constantly staying slightly behind.