These days, when you think of moneymaking wars between vampires and werewolves onscreen, you’d likely point in the direction of the Twilight series. Still, before Robert Pattinson and Kristin Stewart enraptured a generation with their brooding take on beasts and bestiality, Kate Beckinsale lived on chicken and cabbage to climb into a PVC bodysuit for a supernatural saga that quietly became a big deal.
With Underworld, we got a campy action horror franchise that mirrored much of what happened with the Resident Evil film series. Big dumb glossy fun with a horror tinge to it. The results were not to everyone’s tastes in both cases, but they were likable enough to make some serious cheddar at the box office. A sequel and prequel were greenlit before the movie made its US box office bow.
Underworld tells the story of an ancient war between vampires and werewolves. The situation takes an intriguing turn when Suprmeo werewolf-killing vamp Selene (Beckinsale) ends up making lovey-dovey eyes at passive werewolf Michael (Scott Speedman). In a horror-infused take on Romeo & Juliet, the rocky relationship causes more problems than it solves.
Underworld was directed by Len Wiseman, who would go on to direct a sequel in this franchise and one for Die Hard 14 years after the last one. It’s fair to say Wiseman’s vision for Underworld was “Blade but with a healthy dose of The Matrix.” No bad thing, given The Matrix Reloaded had come out and continued the box office success of that series, and Blade was still going with Guillermo Del Toro at the helm. The creators of Underworld even approached Marvel about a Blade crossover at one point.
Shakespeare in the Bark
It’s not even a passing glance at its influences. The latex costumes, slow-mo, gunfights, and scene-style characters are heavily laced with the Wachowski‘s vision, but it’d be hard to argue that Underworld did it better. There’s not a lot of thought or weight behind Underworld’s story, and honestly, that was perfectly fine for what it was trying to be.
What it was trying to be was an action-orientated soap opera take on a doomed romance between feuding factions, and to that end, Underworld was superbly successful. It’s little wonder it managed to spawn several sequels over the years.
And I don’t think it would have reached the appropriate ham and cheese melodrama level without performances such as Michael Sheen (Good Omens) as Lucian. Sheen knows precisely what kind of movie he’s in and revels in the role of the Lycan leader. It may be aping the great bard, but it’s more than fair to say this isn’t aiming to be on the level of Shakespeare.
Underworld would end up with four more sequels, the last of which, Underworld: Blood Wars, arrived in 2016. If another entry is to come, the most significant gap between sequels in the series will be far and away, as previous entries were spread 3-4 years apart. With a resurgence in vampire and werewolf interest, maybe we could do with another bout of dramatic war between the two.
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