For generations, a war has raged between vampires and werewolves, who are called Lycans—short for lycanthropes. The leader of the Lycans, Lucian (Michael Sheen) has been killed by a vampire elder named Kraven (Shane Brolly), who has thus been promoted to first in the triumvirate of vampire leaders. Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a “death-dealer” assassin, seeks revenge on the Lycans for the death of her mother.
In the battle with the Lycans, she discovers that a human medical student named Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman) is involved somehow. She rescues him and finds that they are both pursued by Lucian—still alive. Michael is bitten by Lucian. Since Kraven is the only witness to Lucian’s death, Selene comes to believe that Kraven has lied to the vampires and may be in league with the Lycans. Feeling that she cannot trust Kraven, she returns to the mansion where her coven lives, awakes a hibernating elder named Viktor (Bill Nighy) to warn him, but he does not believe her. She awaits Kraven’s judgement for defying him and meanwhile binds Michael, as he will soon transform into a Lycan at the full moon.
Selene captures a Lycan scientist called Singe (Ermin Leder) and the Lycans capture Michael. He learns that Lucian was once in love with Viktor’s daughter Sonja (Jazmin Dammak) and Viktor murdered her after discovering their love. According to Kraven, Lycans were once the slaves of the vampires and their rebellion began the war. The vampires and Lycans had a common ancestor and Michael is a direct descendant of that ancestor. He could become a vampire-werewolf hybrid.
Amelia (Zita Gorog), the ruler of the coven, is ambushed and killed by Lycans. Selene breaks into the Lycans’ lair to rescue Michael. Kraven and Lucian turn on each other. Kraven tells Selene that Viktor murdered her parents. Michael allows Selene to bite him because he believes her bite will make him an immortal hybrid. Kraven kills Lucian. When Viktor arrives, he admits to killing Selene’s parents and his own daughter. She was pregnant with Lucian’s child and an abomination to both races. He made Selene immortal out of love for her. Selene turns on Viktor to protect Michael and kills him with his own sword. Selena and Michael are now enemies to both species and have to flee. Back in the vampire mansion, Singe’s blood has seeped into the sarcophagus of Marcus and he awakens.
The film was directed by Len Wiseman and written by Danny McBride based on a story by Ken Grevioux. It was made in the UK, Germany, Hungary, and the US. Reviews by critics were largely negative, though some liked the stylish Gothic visuals and Kate Beckinsale’s performance. It began a whole series featuring designer vampires in black leather catsuits and was a hit with young audiences particularly. It was sued for copyright infringement, which ended in a settlement. The music came from Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson and was just as dark and brooding as the visuals. Even before it opened, Screen Gems greenlit a sequel and a prequel.
Kate Beckinsale was in a relationship with Michael Sheen and their daughter appeared in a flashback as the young Selene. On the set, she met her second husband Len Wiseman. They have all worked together on the series. Kevin Grenioux’s voice is that deep and was not a special effect. The character of Selene is based on the Black Queen Selene in the X-Man comics. The film was pitched as Romeo and Juliet with Vampires and Werewolves. This role and Beckinsale’s role in Van Helsing changed her image from lovely girls in period pieces to dark butt-kicking action babes. The bullets used against the werewolves are filled with silver nitrate and those used against the vampires contain an irradiated fluid that emits ultraviolet light, which I thought was a clever detail. Here, Michael Sheen plays a werewolf who hates vampires, but in the Twilight Series he plays a vampire who hates werewolves.
I won’t review the next four Underworld movies. If you liked the first one that much, you’ll like the others, though even the fans on Rotten Tomatoes got a bit tired after a while. Sometimes the plot was hard to follow, if you care, and much of the scenery—pretty much all of it by moonlight—is saturated in blue like Selene’s eyes. Once you get past Kate Beckinsale in black leather and the intriguing saga of the vampire-werewolf war, there isn’t much else but some pretty decent fights and gun-battles. Bill Nighy is always fun to watch, and stalwarts like Derek Jacoby and Charles Dance show up to add some gravitas, now and then. As someone said in another context, if you like this sort of thing, this is just the sort of thing you’ll like. I like it, myself, but maybe not five movies’ worth.