For over a thousand years a war has raged between the Vampires and the Lycans - the werewolves. One night, vampire warrior Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is tracking Lycans when she spots her prey entering a subway. Following the quarry with her comrades in tow, the Lycans surprise them by firing at them in plain view of the ordinary humans, and after a short, intense skirmish, the Lycans escape, leaving one of their number dead. Selene picks up the pistol he was using and takes it back to the mansion that she and her fellow vampires live in. The pistol contains a newly designed ammunition that gives off ultraviolet light, but that's not what's troubling Selene - she is sure that the Lycans were tracking a human, a man named Michael (Scott Speedman). The question is: why?
Sort of a version of the Blade movies with werewolves added into the mix for good measure, Underworld was scripted by Danny McBride, from the story by him, the director Len Wiseman, and actor Kevin Grevioux. There's no getting away from the fact that the film looks terrific, taking place entirely at night apart from one brief sunbeam, and the almost monochrome photography positively gleams in the darkness. Selene is fetchingly dressed in black PVC, and carries two pistols for some gun battles in the Matrix manner, while the others have their own style, grungy for Lycans and elegant for Vampires.
So it looks great, but how does it play? The concept of a supernatural war happening unnoticed by the ordinary people in the street is an attractive one, but what you get is a pretty self-contained story that amuses itself regardless of how absorbing it may be to the viewer, which in this case, is not very. The characters are sorely lacking in the personality department, and the actors seem to have been cast more for what they look like rather than how effective they are. Consider the lack of humour, and the film verges on the pompous.
Selene's investigations lead to the discovery that there is a conspiracy afoot, and an unholy union between certain Vampires and Lycans. It all boils down to a scheme to breed a cross between the bloodsuckers and werewolves, for which the technical name is a Werevampwolfire (probably), a plan the goodies have no problem with, and the baddies see as an "abomination". Poor old Michael gets bitten by the head of the Lycans (Michael Sheen) during Selene's attempt to rescue him, and so a Romeo and Juliet romance emerges (very slowly) betwixt the two.
The Vampires are all very sleek and sophisticated, but they are never seen feeding on humans - were the film makers concerned that we'd lose sympathy with them if we saw what them doing what they are famed for? Likewise, we never see the Lycans feasting on humans either - the supernatural powers mean they come across more like superheroes, without including the grubby business of dinner. The special effects are, in the main, pretty good, but the wolfmen (are there no female werewolves?) look fake compared to their Vampiric counterparts (who look as if they have trouble speaking through their pointy teeth). If it's Gothic eye candy you're after, then Underworld should suit you, but forget anything deeper. Music by Paul Haslinger.