It had been several years since I’d watched the Underworld series but I remember thoroughly enjoying it for the nonsense that it was with Kate Beckinsale looking great while kicking ass and taking names. So I thought I would look back at the series in a brief retrospective. Be warned, if you haven’t seen any of the movies there are some spoilers ahead.
Plot: Selene, a beautiful vampire warrior, is entrenched in a war between the vampire and werewolf races. Although she is aligned with the vampires, she falls in love with Michael, a werewolf who longs for the war to end.
People tend to look down on the Underworld franchise but I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed it; after all it’s got Kate Beckinsale in skin tight leather while kicking unholy amounts of ass.
It’s dripping in sumptuous Gothic visuals with wonderful set design which helps to create the brooding atmosphere; it’s a very blue movie and the franchise in general has the same look which works well in giving that otherworldly feel.
There are some well chosen rock tunes as well as an industrial sounding score provided by Paul Haslinger which isn’t all that memorable but it does what it needs to which is heighten the atmosphere.
Beckinsale portrays Selene as the ultimate warrior who is ice cool and loyal to coven leader Viktor (Bill Nighy) who is currently sleeping but the current leader Kraven has his eye on Selene and wants her by his side. Kraven isn’t remotely sympathetic and is a dick from the start and just argues with Selene about everything. I’m also not sure if he is meant to be Irish or American as his accent is hard to place.
Scott Speedman is a little bland as Michael but he does a decent enough job and comes across as vulnerable in the right moments; when he transforms into the hybrid at the end he comes into his own.
The visual effects still hold up although some of the transformation scenes look a little CG now but the Lycans are still as terrifying as ever and are truly monstrous; they are done practically which is why they still look so convincing. There is some amazing make-up in these movies and Viktor looks completely convincing when he is awakened.
My favourite character is actually Raze played by Kevin Grevioux who has the most awesome voice but not only that he co-created the series; I would literally watch a spin-off just on his character.
Bill Nighy hams it up wonderfully as Viktor and he seems to be channeling a bit of Emperor Palpatine at times which is a joy to watch. He practically steals the movie and even shows up in the sequels. British actors are so good at making even ridiculous subject matter come across as believable and Michael Sheen never disappoints either; Lucian has more depth than you’d expect and his character arc is unpredictable and gives the story its heart.
There’s plenty of R-rated action and it moves at a brisk pace but I do find the climax goes on for too long and could maybe have been cut down a little. There is also a lot going on with the story so you really do have to pay attention; it’s hardly rocket science but there’s a lot of world building.
Overall, Underworld is a stylish and action-packed movie with a fantastic lead in Kate Beckinsale and an excellent supporting cast who treat it all seriously which makes it work when it could fall apart if the tone wasn’t spot on.
Underworld: Evolution (2006)
Plot: Seductive vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and renegade werewolf Michael (Scott Speedman) love one another, but find themselves abhorred by the members of their own clans. Seeking clues that might provide a key to healing the rift between their species, they are hounded by Marcus (Tony Curran), an ancient creature obsessed with perpetuating the war between them. Continually beset by enemies from both sides, the lovers explore their pasts as they seek their destiny.
Underworld: Evolution may well be my favourite in the series; I remember seeing it in the theatre when it came out and thinking it was just a relentless action/horror hybrid that almost feels like The Terminator as Selene and Michael are hunted by Marcus (Tony Curran) who sill not stop until he frees his trapped brother William.
The pacing never lets up and the story is more straightforward than the first movie as we’ve got the convoluted origins out of the way so now we can get down to the ass kicking. It’s got a tighter runtime clocking in at an hour and 45 minutes and there is some great gore too. The final fight between Marcus, William, Michael and Selene is awesome and more satisfying than the climactic battle at the end of the first movie. Marcus has a fantastic death scene which is incredibly visceral and hearkens back to the good days when bad guys would die amazingly over the top deaths.
Evolution still has that blue hue to it which works so well for the series although a little more colour wouldn’t go amiss; it works for keeping the atmosphere moody and serious though.
The score is superior to the first movie as it’s just bit more epic with a full orchestra which really ups the scale.
The visual effects still hold up and I always thought when Marcus is in his natural form as the winged vampire he looks awesome and it’s done mostly using practical effects. As I said previously some of the transformation CG for the Lycans doesn’t stand up quite so well but it’s never too bad and they are for the most part still done practically too.
Bill Nighy returns hamming it up once again as Viktor but Derek Jacobi is a welcome addition to the cast and can class up even a silly vampire movie such as this.
Overall, Underworld: Evolution carries on the story of Selene and Michael nicely with a simpler story and even more action making this a worthy sequel and possibly the best of the series.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)
Plot: Lucian, a werewolf slave, convinces his Lycan compatriots to rebel against their vampire masters, who are led by Viktor, a powerful vampire elder. This leads to a full-fledged war between the two.
Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Lucian the wise? Although we have a good idea how this movie ends (as it was discussed in the first Underworld) it’s nice to get some backstory to the character of Lucian (Michael Sheen) and his forbidden love with Sonja (Rhona Mitra), the daughter of Viktor (Bill Nighy).
If you look at the Underworld series despite being about vampires and werewolves, it is at its core a love story and this entry has a surprising amount of heart. Yes, we know how the story is going to go but it’s good to see the tale of Lucian told in full and Michael Sheen really gives it his all making it surprisingly believable and engaging.
Despite Viktor always saying how the Lycans are merely animals he is the one who is the real monster and the vampires are very much the villains in this. Bill Nighy it at his twitchy best once again as Viktor who is as evil as ever although he does struggle with the idea of killing his own daughter (and rightly so) but not enough for us to actually sympathise with him.
Sonja may look a little like Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and she has some similar traits, but she is less of a warrior and we don’t get to spend as much with her as I’d maybe like. This is more Lucian’s backstory and how the Lycans rise up from the shackles and take their freedom from their vampire overlords.
Once again the visuals are very blue but it would be weird if it had a different look. The effects still hold up and the Lycans are still arguably the scariest werewolves ever committed to screen.
Overall, Rise of the Lycans may have a predictable ending but it’s nice to get the backstory to Lucian and Sonja’s tragic love story and why the vampires and Lycans hate each other so much.
Underworld: Awakening (2012)
Plot: When human forces discover the existence of the Vampire and Lycan clans, a war to eradicate both species commences. The vampire warrior Selene leads the battle against humankind.
Underworld: Awakening opens a new chapter in the story and wastes no time getting going as we discover that humans have discovered that vampires and Lycans exist and are now being exterminated to the point of extinction.
Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is captured along with Michael by a corporation called Antigen; she is frozen and is awakened 12 years later. She believes it was Michael who freed her but we discover it is actually their daughter who has her own new powers making her the target of what’s left of the Lycans.
Michael is only seen in the movie in brief flashes which got me thinking that perhaps Scott Speedman was getting bored of the franchise and wanted to go on to bigger, better things like The Strangers and ehhh other stuff.
We have a few newcomers to the cast including Michael Ealy as Detective Sebastian, the always great Charles Dance as well as Theo James as David. I’ve always liked Theo James on screen and he makes for a good ally for Selene as they try to protect the child from not only the Lycans but Antigen led by Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea).
The normally ice cold Selene actually emotes in this movie and at one point we even see her cry which helps us to feel more sympathy for her.
At an hour and 28 minutes this entry moves at breakneck (biteneck?) pace and is packed with action. There is a little more CG but it’s still pretty decent and the BFL (Big Fuckin Lycan) as I call it is suitably monstrous and gives us an entertaining final set-piece. The ending is very much left up in the air to be continued in Blood Wars…
Overall, Underworld: Awakening isn’t all that memorable but it’s not without its moments and Charles Dance/Theo James make for a welcome cast addition. It is rapidly paced and rarely stops for breath giving us an entertaining 90 minutes.
Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)
Plot: Vampire death dealer, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) fights to end the eternal war between the Lycan clan and the Vampire faction that betrayed her.
And so we come to the final battle; Selene is an outcast, hunted by vampires and Lycans alike. With no sign of Michael since Selene, Eve and David were left at the top of building after Michael escaped from Antigen at the end of Awakening.
If you are still reading this by now (thank you first of all) you’ll know that Blood Wars has the same Gothic visual style of the other movies so if you didn’t like them then this won’t win you over either.
The movies have always taken themselves very seriously and at times I did smile at some unintentional humour especially the line “she must by wiped from the great pages of our history” (or words to that effect) which was a cool line but it was delivered so theatrically that it was hard not to smile. I need to start using it at work.
Like the other entries this is rated R and there are some imaginative kills; you’ve got Lycans being cut in half, headshots galore and even some spine-ripping which is always nice. The final 20 minutes has a satisfying battle with plenty of bloodshed and swordfights so there’s enough action to savour.
It’s every bit as stylish as the other movies too with the same awesome set and costume design really pulling you into this hyper reality.
Theo Davis returns as David and is one of my favourite characters in the series as he is just a total hero and immediately sympathetic. His father (Charles Dance) is also back for more and also proves a man/vampire of honour and realizes that Selene may not the threat she’s been painted as and there is a genuine traitor in their midst.
One thing I enjoy about this series is how there are heroes and villains on both sides, so you don’t totally hate the Lycans or vampires. I thought Tobias Menzies was a welcome addition as Marius, the new leader of the Lycans who is determined to find Selene’s daughter and wipe out their enemies and have unlimited power!
Lara Pulver was particularly hateful as the big bad of the tale called Semira and she chews the scenery every moment she is on screen. I do miss Viktor and Lucian though and I think this series was at its best when they were in the main story. I think it was also convenient how Michael is killed off screen so Scott Speedman could avoid coming back for more.
It does wrap most of the story up nicely with Selene proving herself a true hero and in the end she becomes an elder of the vampire coven and looks forward to a time of peace. We all know good things don’t last however, and I would like Underworld: The Final Battle to become a reality.
So there we have it; a quick-ish retrospective on the Underworld series; which remains an enjoyably ridiculous time at the movies with the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale eating up the screen and kicking massive amounts of ass in the process. Selene remains one of my all-time favourite female action heroes and I’ll never tire of watching her take out the trash, jumping off ledges in slo-mo and landing like a champ. If you don’t like the series then fair enough but I have a soft spot for it and think it has oodles of style and imaginative set-pieces to be worthy of reappraisal.