Monday, May 23, 2016

Underworld: A Great Action Movie

Underworld directed by Len Wiseman in 2003 was one of the first R-rated movies I ever saw. I watched it on tv late one summer night when the rest of my family had gone to bed, and I really enjoyed it.

Afterwards, I learned that Underworld was reviewed pretty poorly, and even others who enjoyed it said it wasn't a very good movie except as light entertainment. At the time I didn't know enough about that kind of movie to disagree.

Recently, however, it became available on Netflix, and I watched it again. I wish to argue that this is, in fact, a great action/fantasy film.

Summary

Underworld is about a vampire Selene who is a Death Dealer. She hunts werewolves (Lycans) as part of an ancient war. A battle in a subway tunnel involves a medical student named Michael Corvin, and later, Selene learns that the Lycans intend to capture him.

Selene is intrigued and begins following Michael. When he is bitten by the Lycan leader Lucian, she helps him, even though he is now a sworn enemy. Their relationship becomes more romantic as the film continues, and she ends up betraying her vampire family to protect him.

Weak Plot

The lack of plot is the foremost problem according to critics. I, frankly, am surprised that most people seem to find it weak. It is simple, certainly, but that should be optimal in a film whose end goal is to entertain through fight scenes.

 Furthermore, I thought the plot gained complexity as the story unfolded. Hidden motivations and betrayals are slowly revealed, and I found the subtle unweaving of the relationships between the Lycans and vampires intriguing and satisfying.

I certainly understood what was happening better the second time I watched this film, but I believe that is a pro, not a con, and proof that there is more going on than the simple plot of girl falls in love with boy and sacrifices everything for him.

Shallow Characters

The second fault critics find in Underworld is the lack of "deep" characters. Once again, I disagree with this assessment.

First, Selene and Michael fall in love. This process is certainly glossed over. There is no DTR talk, no brooding reflection of the consequences. Kraven, Selene's would-be suitor, accuses her of loving a Lycan, but she never agrees and never says anything about it herself.

This is not a problem. The film is an action movie; the romance, and excuse. There is also something deeply satisfying in the self-confidence Selene and Michael display. Even though they never tell each other their feelings, they know their own and act on them firmly to defend who they love.

Secondly, Selene is a well-developed character beyond her romantic interests. Her betrayal of her vampire family is believable because her strong sense of justice and her independence has already been firmly established. The motivations of others are equally clear by the final battle, if not initially, which kept things interesting with a little mystery.

"Vapid" Dialogue and Other Problems

I appreciated the minimalist dialogue. There were no wasted words. Exposition was brief and clear, letting the film move on to the action, which is the point of an action movie.

I loved the setting. It had a gothic comic book feel, with shots just wide enough to give the audience a taste of the world without rubbing our faces in it: a Matrix, gothic horror combo that was visually appealing.

I loved the real monsters. The Lycans and the vampires were both tangible. Costumes will always satisfy me more than CGI, and Underworld used them to great effect.

Conclusion

Underworld doesn't get as much credit as it deserves. It is way better a vampire movie than Twilight, which for some reason is over 10% more fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. I won't speak for the sequels, obviously.


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