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There is something about the Underworld franchise that appeals to me. Typically, the action horror genre is not my thing, especially one that borrows elements from better movies and throughout its installments has turned out quite a convoluted plot. Yet, these films are so watchable and ones I like to return to from time to time.
It all comes down to the first film, Underworld. Released in 2003 and director Len Wiseman’s feature film debut, the film casts Kate Beckinsale as Selene, a vampire who, in an effort to save her race, partners with a human who is of valuable interest to the vampires’ enemy, the Lycans. This vampire vs. werewolf story isn’t anything new, and the film doesn’t dole out the details of the world and this war between two supernatural species in the easiest way to follow. However, it is tightly edited and fast paced enough that you fall right into it as each piece of new information is unveiled, from the truth about the war’s origins to the real intentions of the Lycans’ leader, Lucian, played by Michael Sheen of all people.
While acknowledging that Underworld is far from filmmaking at its best, as a series of films, it’s always remained true to itself. Never aiming too high on the cinematic pretension scale, but still managing to be entertaining for audiences looking for a fun and mindless escape. This is where Underworld excels with Beckinsale’s consistent and well done performance as Selene, a wonderfully badass lead that can convincingly showcase her character’s vulnerabilities as well as her strengths. It’s that on-screen persona that makes Selene, which is otherwise a thinly developed character, someone we enjoy watching again and again.
Even Scott Speedman, who is handsome but incredibly boring as Michael Corvin, the “chosen one” per se of this series, can’t match the intensity of Beckinsale’s Selene. Bill Nighy camps it up too much to be taken seriously, so it’s really down to Michael Sheen, who is the most surprising part of this series, in particular the first film. Initially set up to seem like the villain, Lucian’s character arc is a rewarding aspect of the first film, and even to an extent earns its follow-up prequel, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.
It’s a testament to the film’s visual aesthetic, appealing cast and fun escapism that audiences keep returning to see Underworld, apparently enough so to warrant a fifth film arriving in theaters early next year.