Friday, April 18, 2014

Underworld Movie Review

When they are portrayed correctly, I like a good werewolf or vampire movie. They usually aren't portrayed very well. I've wanted to see Underworld (2003) for  awhile since it features both vampires and werewolves duking it out. About eleven years later I finally got around to it. I kind of liked it, but for the wrong reason.
Vampires and werewolves have been sworn enemies for hundreds of years, never seen by human eyes. Now fought in the present the conflict takes and unexpected turn. Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a beautiful vampire warrior, uncovers a Lycan/werewolf plot that could prove fatal for her entire race. She shadows a human, Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), the Lycans' supposed target. Selene is unable to stop the Lycans in time and during a violent struggle, Michael is bitten by Lucian (Michael Sheen), the Lycan overlord, long thought to be dead. Michael will become a werewolf on the next full moon, but how does this fit into the Lycan's plans? Both sides must decide how to end the conflict and save their species as new and terrifying secrets unearth themselves and threatens the existence of both species.
The story here is not very complicated or terribly interesting. It's like, fight fight, fight, fight, "Oh, the Lycans are up to something," fight, fight, fight, fight, "Uh-oh, you're gonna be a werewolf," fight ,fight, fight, fight, "The Lycans have Michael! But why?" fight, fight, fight, fight. That could have been my summary paragraph; not much else happens beyond that until the last fifteen minutes or so. There are plenty of plot twists, but you can see most of them coming from a long way off. Even with a predictable and basic plot, the plot twists do their job well by keeping the audience guessing, even if the audience manages to guess the outcome sooner than the movie would probably like them to. The writing isn't bad in terms of plot development, but the story itself was sub-par at best.
Underworld was painfully stylized. It had a very artificial color palette; lots of black and light blues, with the very occasional and contrasting bright red for the blood. It seemed to me like the actors were striking artificial poses and posturing to the point that it resembled a sexy cologne commercial, especially with the black leather catsuits and unreal color and artificial backgrounds. Everyone was overacting in an almost exaggerated way, and the lack of character development made it difficult to care about any of the characters. It looks like they were trying to emulate The Matrix with the leather bodysuits, trench coats, sunglasses, and slow-motion action but failed to be anywhere near as good.
Unfortunately the vampires weren't very vampire-y, and the werewolves weren't very werewolf-y. The vampires possess the superhuman physical prowess commonly seen in pop culture, but none of the mystical weaknesses of mythical vampires; crosses, holy water, garlic, stakes, etc. The werewolves have a pretty impressive transformation process, but the end result is pretty lame. They resemble gorillas with canine snouts and claws. This is the only time I've seen werewolves considered immortal like vampires are. Even when they were CGI animated, they still resembled men in rubber monster suits. That was probably the most disappointing part of the movie for me.
What I thought was most interesting about Underworld wasn't actually part of the movie itself. As I was watching it, I kept thinking of a couple of games by White Wolf, Inc. called Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Vampire: The Masquerade; storytelling role playing games both set in the World of Darkness setting. As it turned out, White Wolf, Inc. filed a lawsuit against Lakeshore Entertainment Studio for seventeen counts of copyright infringement and claimed over eighty points of unique similarity between White Wolf's game systems and the movie. White Wolf was granted an expedited hearing and the lawsuit ended in a confidential settlement. Seriously, that was what was most interesting about the movie to me, and it wasn't even a part of the movie. Underworld did earn a few points with me only because it resembled a game I like to play. Neat as that is, it doesn't say much for the movie itself.
Underworld is not the most creative, memorable, good movie by any metric. The acting is forced and exaggerated, the blocking looks like it was designed by a modeling runway director, the colors look out of place and unreal, the story was weak, and I didn't particularly like the vampires and werewolves. It is good for being an over-the-top action movie with magical guns that never run out of ammunition. This movie did earn a few points for resembling a couple of role playing games that I enjoyed, but that was about it. Don't bother with Underworld unless you really want to see a crazy action movie that asks you to take its credibility beyond a movie's normal threshold. If you do play Werewolf: The Apocalypse and Vampire: The Masquerade, you'll probably get just a little bit more out of it. That alone bumped my assessment of the movie from "meh" to "eh, okay."

What's the best movie werewolf you've seen? Not the best werewolf movie, but the movie werewolf that looks the best. Comment below and tell me about it!

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