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Underworld Review

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Back in the old days when vampires were mentioned the first thing that came to people's minds was Count Dracula. Since then we've come to see a lot of different adaptations of the vampire myth, whether it's Anne Rice's romanticized take on the bloodsuckers or the myth of the Mexican vampires in flicks like John Carpenter's Vampires from 1998. These days people mostly think of the more modern reimaginings such as the girlie vampires of the Twilight franchise or the strictly R rated vampires of True Blood. Before these two, there was a different modern reimagining of vampires, that of the badass action hero vampire in the 2003 movie, Underworld.

Released in September 2003, Underworld was a very different take on the myth of the vampire. Hardly focusing on the horroristic aspects of the bloodsuckers, the movie takes advantage of the fact that they are immortal, nearly unkillable creatures who are naturally fitted to the role of the ultimate action hero. The movie takes place in a modern day setting at a time when vampires and lycans (the werewolves of the Underworld franchise) are at war. The protagonist is Selene, a vampire played by Kate Beckinsale who serves her coven as a so-called Death Bringer, a vampire who spends her life hunting lycans. She takes her job dead seriously as she has quite a score to settle with the werewolves: lycans killed her parents when she was a child and she basically wants to kill them all. The story follows her as she uncovers a plot by a lycan long thought dead to eradicate the leaders of the vampires. The movie's plot is quite simple and is basically an excuse for all the shootouts and fights that take place during the movie, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Underworld is basically an action movie about vampires and werewolves, and it works extremely well. If you're the type of movie lover who only watches artsy flicks with a deep meaning and refuses to watch anything entertaining, you're not going to like Underworld. If, however, you like movies like Commando or Face/Off and wonder what an action movie about vampires and werewolves is like, then this movie is well worth your time.

Underworld Trailer

The story is simple but well told. It is rich and detailed enough to keep you interested between two shootouts. We get to learn a great deal about the history of the conflict between the vampires and the lycans and the movie does a good job at creating a dark, gothic atmosphere. One of the biggest strengths of the movie is its cast. Underworld features a wide variety of different characters who help make the world come alive around them, ranging from the badass Selene through the similarly vengeance driven lycan leader Lucien and his silent enforcer Raze to the cool headed weapons expert Kahn and the wise yet ruthless vampire overlord Viktor (played by the awesome Bill Nighy who nails this performance extremely well) and many others. Special mention needs to go to Kraven, the vampire in charge of the vampire coven. His character is one of the most awesome things about Underworld, and sadly he's one of the most misunderstood and therefore overcriticized characters. The movie in general wasn't too well received by critics but the character who got the most shit from them was Kraven. Even critics who liked the movie (see e.g. this review) refer to Kraven as a character who came across as "emotionally flat" when the critic was "expecting real terror". Truth is, Kraven was never meant to be terrifying. He was like Starscream in the 1980s Transformers cartoon series: a cowardly spineless bastard who will stop at nothing to get his way but will cower at the first sign of danger, yet ruthless and brilliant enough to mastermind a plot to take complete control only to fail in the end because of his cowardice. The story makes it abundantly clear that this is the kind of character that Kraven was, and it's exactly the kind of character that we saw in Kraven; Shane Brolly did an excellent job with his performance, delivering Kraven as a true Starscream-like character. The man deserves nothing but praise for his performance. The only reason his performance does not stand out is because everyone else did a spectacular job as well from Kate Beckinsale through Bill Nighy to Michael Sheen. This is one extremely well acted action flick.

Underworld also works well because of the action scenes which are very well made. The shootouts in the movie are not only quite satisfying, but they have their own unique twist to them as well in that both the vampires and the lycans use some high tech modern day weaponry. The vampires rely on silver bullets and silver shurikens while the lycans use UV tracer rounds to kill the bloodsuckers which the vampires later use to create their own extra high tech weaponry in silver nitrate bullets. Sometimes a couple of well choreographed fight scenes replace the shootouts between Selene and a few dead meat lycans which work surprisingly well at establishing Selene as a badass action heroine who could go toe to toe with the likes of Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris. Near the end of the story she participates in a short but sweet sword fight which ends in a hilarious death scene. In other words, the movie is filled with top-notch action for fans of old fashioned action movies.

Underworld has a pretty good soundtrack as well. Produced by Danny Lohner the soundtrack is composed of metal, hard rock, and industrial tracks which do a great job at further strengthening the gothic atmosphere of the movie. The visuals are likewise impressive, though if you have a problem with the color blue you might not enjoy it that much.

To summarize, Underworld is one of the better modern day vampire flicks out there. We in fact consider it one of the best movies of all time, worthy of being mentioned on the same page with the likes of Army of Darkness, albeit it's a different type of movie. We highly recommend this flick to everyone. Next week we'll return with the review of the 2006 sequel.

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