When it comes to the horror genre, I favor the creature feature side – particularly Werewolves and Vampires – so naturally the ‘Underworld’ franchise is right up my ally. Do I want to see a big-budget, large in scope tale about a war between Vampires and Werewolves? Yes please. I’m there without hesitation.
Between the years 2003 and 2016, Screen Gems released five films in the ‘Underworld’ franchise, four of which starred Kate Beckinsale as the badass vampire warrior Selene. Of the five films, I love three of them and am indifferent to two of them. I don’t outright hate the bottom two on my list – they’re watchable and okay-at-best – but they just feel a bit bland to me. Make no mistake, they are in my collection and I will watch them in a marathon of the franchise, no problem.
With that being said, here’s my ranking and reviews of all five films in this franchise, from least favorite to favorite:
5) ‘Underworld: Blood Wars’ (2016):
Former Death-Dealer, Selene, is being hunted by both Vampires and Lycans. Again. The new leader of the Lycans, Marius (Tobias Menzies) is on a quest to find Selene and Michael’s hybrid daughter Eve, hoping to harvest her blood to give him and the remaining Lycans an advantage over the Vampires, while the Vampire Semira (Lara Polver) plots against Selene in an effort to rise in rank amongst the Vampire Coven.
There are things that I do like about the fifth film: I do like Lara Polver as the villainess Semira; I like the introduction of the Nordic Coven and their look and abilities; and some of the action sequences are pretty good, particularly in the third act. But this film oddly writes off the Eve character as “in hiding” despite being integral to the plot, and instead of developing her further as a character. Why they chose to give us same-old, same-old Selene rather then explore the dynamic of Selene as a parent trying to raise a hybrid daughter is beyond me. The biggest issue that I take with this film is how it handled the fate of Michael Corvin. The fourth film had similarly written him out, but at least kept open the possibility for Scott Speedman’s return to the franchise. This film, however, seals the characters fate in a very unsatisfying way, and because of that this film is my least favorite of the franchise.
4) ‘Underworld: Awakening’ (2012):
After a one-movie absence, Kate Beckinsale returns as Selene for the fourth film in the franchise. Following the events of ‘Underworld: Evolution’ (2006), Selene and Michael are on the run, but are quickly captured and are held in suspended animation for many years. Selene is eventually awoken as chaos ensues at the facility in which she’s been kept captive. She escapes and is in desperate search for her missing lover, Michael Corvin, and she soon discovers that she gave birth to a child – a natural born hybrid – a girl named Eve (India Eisley), and once again Selene is drawn into a feud between the factions of Vampires and Lycans.
While it is a bit disappointing that the character of Michael Corvin (previously played by Scott Speedman) is essentially written out of the story, I don’t fault this film like I do the fifth. I’m no expert on the behind-the-scenes challenges of this particular franchise, but I do suspect that it was likely due to Scott Speedman’s unwillingness to return, which they had to write around, so they cast a (kind of) look-alike for the bookends of the movie and left open the possibility of Speedman’s return for future installments. Fine. It’s not ideal, but I can live with that. On the other hand, however, it does feel a little odd without his presence considering how important he was to the first two films. The creative team here at least fills in the gap by introducing the couple’s daughter, Eve, as someone for Selene to have some sort of emotional connection to and as a way to anchor Selene’s importance to the plot. The fourth film does have some decent sequences of action and violence, and I do like Stephen Rea as the films lead villain, Jacob.
The movie itself feels small in comparison with the first two films of the franchise, and the story just doesn’t quite feel right as the next logical step to the established story or character’s journeys. This, coupled with the fifth film almost makes the events and victories of the first two films feel irrelevant. ‘Underworld: Awakening’ isn’t an awful film, but it is the beginning of the end of the franchise.
3) ‘Underworld’ (2003):
In my opening paragraph I mentioned that I loved three films in this franchise and am indifferent to two of them. Now that the bottom two are done, let’s talk about the three films in this series that I highly enjoy.
I know what you’re thinking: What? How can the first film be placed Third on this list? Well, the reasoning might not be as big as you may think. It really comes down to minor nit-picks and the circumstance of liking my top two picks just a Lycan hair more. I was Twenty-Years-Old when the first film was released in 2003, and my excitement level was through the roof. It was exactly the type of genre film I wanted to see at the time: a high concept, R-Rated epic about a world inhabited by Vampires and Werewolves, and for me, it delivered. The story is pretty simple: a badass Vampire named Selene discovers the existence of an underground pack of Lycans lead by the thought-to-be-dead Lucian (Michael Sheen), whose actions allegedly kickstarted the war between the two factions, and who are seemingly tracking a human named Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman). After her discoveries are dismissed by the coven, Selene takes action, and she finds herself unraveling a conspiracy that leads directly back to her own coven, and linked her own origin as a Vampire.
What I really like about this movie is the mythology and character history that is established. I won’t go as far to say that anything in here is original, but there does seem to be a great care taken into the rules and timeline of events that supports the story beats and character motivations. Familiar ground may have been trodden before, but Director Len Wiseman and Writers Danny McBride (not the one you’re thinking of) and Kevin Grevioux created a world easy to believe in and interesting enough to follow.
I also feel like this film has some memorable characters played by likeable actors. Obviously Beckinsale rocks as Selene, but Bill Nighy is also fantastic as Viktor, as is Michael Sheen as Lucian, who is my favorite character of the franchise (which is something that I may mention another time or two in this writing). As alluded to, my negatives are very minor: I’m not too big on action sequences resembling the styles of ‘Equilibrium’ and ‘The Matrix’ – I’m well aware that style of action was “in” around the time period this film was released, so I didn’t mind it too much then, but now, it feels a little dated. Also, I don’t quite buy into the romance between Selene and Michael, but then again, I don’t watch these for the romance, so no harm, no foul there.
Overall, I’m a fan of this movie and have been since it came out.
2) ‘Underworld: Rise of the Lycans’ (2009)
The third film in the franchise is a prequel about a story that’s been well established in the first two films, to which we already know the outcome. So why do I have this placed above the first film on this list? Well, it really boils down to a personal preference: if asked to choose between Vampires and Werewolves, I’m choosing Werewolves every time. I like both, but I have a bias. This franchise on the other hand is seemingly in favor of the Vampires – which isn’t to say that the Lycans don’t have shining moments, because they do, but with the two films before this prequel and the two films following it, the Vampire side remains a focal point. What sells ‘Underworld: Rise of the Lycans’ for me is the fact that the Lycans and their plight get to be front and center. Additionally, the story is centered on Lucian, who I may have mentioned is my favorite character of this series, and is once again played by Michael Sheen. Another bonus is the return of Bill Nighy as Viktor, Kevin Grevioux as Raze, and Steven Mackintosh as Tanis; all of whom were either memorable or likeable in the previous films. Joining them is Rhona Mitra as Viktor’s daughter, Sonja. I’ve always liked her as an actress and she’s a welcome addition here. Also, her slight resemblance to Selene gives a little weight to the idea that Selene was turned into a Vampire because she reminded Viktor of Sonja.
The familiar story follows Lycanthropic slave Lucian who lives in servitude of his Vampire master, Viktor. It seems though that Lucian hasn’t quite been a “good boy” as he’s been having a secret affair with Sonja. After discovering the truth about his Vampire daughter and his Lycan slave, and of their offspring in Sonja’s womb, Viktor is fearful of a blending of the species and orders for Lucian to be tortured and Sonja killed! Lucian manages to escape shortly after, and fueled with vengeance, he organizes a revolt with his fellow enslaved Lycans.
Despite knowing the story and the outcome, I appreciated getting to see a film about Lucian and his rise to power, and I appreciated getting at least one film in this series from a Lycan’s perspective.
1) ‘Underworld: Evolution’ (2006)
The second film is by far my favorite of this franchise, and is just a really great sequel in general. Following the events of the first film, Selene and Michael are on the run, knowing that there are grave consequences that come with killing a powerful Vampire elder like Viktor. Meanwhile that last remaining Vampire elder of the coven, Marcus Corvinus (Tony Curran) awakens earlier than anticipated after the blood from a Lycan (who was killed near Marcus’s resting place near the third act of the first film) leaks downward and disrupts his slumber. The blood memories from the deceased Lycan, as well as that of the traitorous Kraven (Shane Brolly), catch him up on some of what has transpired previously, and so he seeks out Selene and Michael – both of whom contains pieces of a puzzle that Marcus must acquire to free his brother William Corvinus (Brian Steele) from a secret prison to which only Viktor knew the location of – or so it seemed – as Selene’s family tragedy may hold an important clue to William’s whereabouts.
What I really love about this movie is how it feels like a natural progression of the story while expanding upon the mythology and world that it exists in, and it feels as if everything that drives this movie is the direct consequence to the events of the first film. Selene and Michael shook the status quo and I think this film reflects that in a genuine way.
I specifically love the introduction of the Corvinus family: Marcus, the first Vampire; his brother William, the first Lycanthrope; and their immortal father Alexander (Derek Jacobi), who runs a secret organization that works tirelessly to cover up the messy activities from the Vampires and the Lycans in an effort to keep them hidden from the public. It’s a nice extension to the lore that fits pretty nicely with what was already established. And honestly, given the fact that by the end of this film Alexander and his organization are completely wiped out, there was so much potential for this franchise going forward to deal with the further consequences, with a larger shake-up to the status quo now that there isn’t anyone to cover up for the monsters that walk amongst humankind. Unfortunately, neither of the later two sequels jumped on the opportunity.
The character designs for Marcus in bat form and William in his permanent Werewolf form are fantastic and I applaud them for being more unique and monstrous in comparison to the Vampires and Werewolves that we’ve seen in this series.
The action scenes are done so much better here than they were in the first film. Sure, there are some of the same tricks of which I criticized in my thoughts about the first film, but I think with this film Len Wiseman found more of his own style. At least to me they felt less like ‘Equilibrium’ and ‘The Matrix’ and more like its own thing. I’m sure having a creature with large wings flying around helps make it a bit more distinct, but that’s just another reason to love this movie. The third act battle is the best of the series, and Selene and Michael get some badass moments, especially with how each defeats the Corvinus brothers.
The last positive that I’ll speak about here is the score from Marco Beltrami. I have nothing against Paul Haslinger, but Beltrami’s themes sound so much more fitting for these films, and I’m genuinely shocked that he never got to return for the sequels. His score for ‘Underworld: Evolution’ is badass and epic, and it really enhances my enjoyment and love for this film.
How would you rank them?
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