Sunday, February 15, 2004

Underworld (2003)

Vacuum Energy rating: no stars
Background information about "Underworld" is available at The Internet Movie Database.

"Underworld" stylistically seems to resemble "The Matrix" to a large degree. We have glamorous people with guns and superpowers shooting it out with relatively unattractive bad guys with guns and superpowers. All of the action takes place in a big, unamed city with perpetual gloom and rain. People can blaze away at their enemies with machine gun fire in the subway and nobody seems to notice. On the other hand, the action in "Underworld" is largely between the vampires, who seem remarkably well adapted to the 20th century despite a mild case of the stupids, and the lycans (i.e. werewolves), who have, for the most part, failed to evolve past "generic bad guy" over the last 600 years.

Six centuries ago, the vampires killed the lycan leader Lucien and won a decisive victory over his lycan hordes. The war has continued, albeit in low intensity form, to the present day, when the ever-vigilant vampire warrior Selene continues to search for and destroy the few remaining lycans. Selene's suspicions are raised when she observes two lycans, easily identifiable by their sense of purpose and their clumsy attempt to blend into the crowd, hunting a specific human down the streets. Obviously, since the lycans haven't started to kill and maim at random, they must be up to something. Selene and her vampire allies investigate only to get into a firefight with the lycans, who are chucking new "ultraviolet rounds" at them. The stalked human escapes, but as Selene searches for him she stumbles across a lycan nest of a size unknown since the days of Lucien. It's all very sinister, and as subordinates report back to superiors, we get a sense of where the action is going.

The lycan leader is identified as a vaguely fascist villain by his attempts to impose discipline on the otherwise unruly lycans, as well as by frequently meeting with this german crime-doctor to consult over wierd medical experiments. The vampire leader, on the other hand, is also implicated as a secondary villain by his decadent interest in socializing with the vampire nobility, instead of hunting lycans like a good trooper, as well as by his expectation that our chief gun-toting heroine should be his vampire queen. As we might have expected, nobody believes Selene for a second, so conventional movie logic forces her to go "rogue" in an attempt to find the still-missing human suspect, ultimately to save the rest of the vampires when the lycan plan takes them by surprise.

Unfortunately for the lycans, their sinister plan breaks apart from the weight of movie cliches placed upon it. The lycans have been planning to turn the human they've been stalking into a vampire-werewolf with the combined powers of both. The vampire monarch Victor, awakend by Selene a century early in a desperate attempt to get somebody in authority to listen to her, turns out to have been manipulating everyone from the beginning. The vampires after 600 years of conflict from the Age of Gunpowder onwards finally invent a new "silver nitrate round". The lycans don't turn out to be evil, just misunderstood. The list goes on and on, but if you're looking for a movie with hot women in corsets with firearms, it probably doesn't matter.


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