‘Underworld’ – vampires vs. werewolves on Netflix

Underworld (2003) is not a comic book movie, but it sure plays like one.

In the bleak tech noir future of drizzly nights, rain slicked streets, and neon blue and cold white lighting, a centuries-old war between the aristocratic vampires and the feral werewolves rages. Kate Beckinsale is the vampire culture’s greatest warrior Selene, a “Death dealer” armed with silver-bullet guns and high-tech throwing stars and dressed in shiny black leather so tight and form-fitting that the corset has to be tied around the outside. Scott Speedman costars as Michael, a human medical intern of particular interest to the Lycan (werewolf) pack for reasons that the vampires don’t yet understand.

Lithe and limber, Beckinsale doesn’t merely look great, she moves as if born to the leather and her action sequences are marvelously choreographed. Her first kiss with ostensible love interest Michael, however, is single flattest, coldly curious liplock in the last century of cinema, and Speedman isn’t merely bland, he’s blank as a hapless human caught in the middle of a supernatural war.

They turn out to be pawns in a beastly conspiracy that flips the conflict into a modern version of class warfare between old European aristocracy and peasant serfs fighting for freedom and equality. Bill Nighy stands out as the once and future vampire king Viktor who is roused from sleep to reign once again… should the vamps prevail.

Conspiracies and allegorical angles aside, this sleekly stylized monster mash ends up a big, muddy mess of bad guys: predator versus predator, and the winner takes the human race. It makes for a perverse kind of happy ending.

Michael Sheen costars as the Lycan alpha wolf Lucian and Shane Brolly, Sophia Myles, and Wentworth Miller costar.

It’s the directorial debut of Len Wiseman, who graduated from commercials and music video and brings a history of production design to his filmmaking. And for the record, the Danny McBride who wrote the screenplay is not the actor of the same name who cowrote the Halloween revival with David Gordon Green.

A franchise was born. Len Wiseman returned to direct the first of the four sequels and Kate Beckinsale hung on throughout the diminishing returns as the rest of the original cast fell away.

Rated R

Streaming on Netflix for a limited time. Add to My List on Netflix.

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Underworld [Blu-ray]
Underworld [4K UHD + Blu-ray]
Underworld [DVD]
Underworld (5 Film Collection) [Blu-ray]
Underworld (5 Film Collection) [DVD]

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The Blu-ray and DVD special editions feature two commentary tracks (one by director Len Wiseman and screenwriter Danny McBride, the other a technical track with creature designer Patrick Tatopoulos, visual effects supervisor James McQuade, and sound designer Claude Letessier), behind-the-scenes featurettes, storyboard-to-scene comparisons, and a music video among the supplements.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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