“The War had all but ground to a halt in the blink of an eye.” At least that’s how it seemed to the Vampire Death Dealer Selene. Lucian, overlord of the Lycan race, had been killed 600 years previous and it appeared as if vampires had finally triumphed over their ancient foes. Now, only a few scattered bands of Lycans (more commonly known as werewolves) roam the earth, and those are relentlessly hunted by Death Dealers such as Selene. She, however, mourns their decreasing numbers because she has only one purpose in life: to destroy as many of the enemy as she can.
Unbeknownst to Selene, her interests will soon be broadened. One rainy evening, she spots a pack of Lycans tailing a human (an oddity, since Lycans regard humans as nothing more than tasty hors d'oeuvres). Curious, Selene follows them and learns that the human’s name is Michael, he’s a doctor at a local hospital and he’s quite attractive. What the smitten vampire doesn’t realize is that he’s not the handsome human he appears to be—he’s a Lycan. What follows is a super-violent, preternatural re-imagining of one of Western literature’s most famous stories, Romeo and Juliet.
The main point of Underworld is that love can triumph over prejudice. Without giving too much away, the conflict between the werewolves and the vampires began when a cross-racial marriage was violently broken up because it was thought to be an “abomination.” Selene and Michael’s romance brings old lies and discrimination to light, showing that the races can not only dwell peaceably but that a union of the two is greater than the sum of their parts.
Also, Michael is kind and compassionate, risking his life to aid an innocent bystander hit by crossfire during a shootout and save Selene from drowning. A vampire’s treachery and cowardice is shown to be despicable.
Vampires are, for all intents and purposes, “naturally” undying beings who often use their immortality to indulge in sensual pleasures. Justifying his luxurious living, Selene’s clan steward Kraven states, “What’s the point of being immortal if you deny yourself the simple pleasures in life?” Later, he alludes to Matthew 14:8 when commanding his grunts to kill Michael. A vampire patriarch often uses religious terms such as “covenant,” “judgment,” “heresy” and “absolution.” A song played during the closing credits mixes Christian imagery with sexual references.
Selene wears skintight bodysuits. Female vampires sport low-cut gowns. Selene and Michael kiss.
First-time director Len Wiseman blends the kind of action one might associate with John Woo’s films with gory horror mythos, and the results are predictably crimson. When guns come out and fangs are bared, blood flows in copious amounts. A gunfight in a crowded subway leaves a human bystander wounded, a Lycan peppered with silver slugs and a vampire burned from the inside out after being hit with irradiated bullets. Projectiles are (graphically) dug out of Lycan bodies with fingers or surgical instruments. In one instance, Lucian ejects them through sheer willpower. Kraven is stabbed through the leg. Several characters are shot at pointblank range, execution style.
In wolfish form, Lycans are shown feasting on bodies and brutally mauling victims. One scene that repeats itself several times via flashback shows Michael being bitten by Lucian (the camera takes plenty of time to linger on the wound). Lucian is blasted multiple times and is hit by a car. Repressed memories show a Lycan being flogged and a vampire roasted by the sun. A hibernating vampire is awakened by having blood poured down his throat. An unfortunate Lycan is messily executed. One vampire’s head gets bisected by a sword. Michael and a vampire violently spar. Lycans’ bodily transformations are a bit grotesque.
Crude or Profane Language
Three f-words, four s-words and about three other crude expressions. God and Jesus’ names are abused four times (including a single misuse in a song).
Drug and Alcohol Content
Vampires drink blood from crystal wine glasses and puff on cigarettes.
Other Negative Elements
Selene breaks into Michael’s apartment to gather information about him.
“Two households of selfsame grotesquerie—werewolf and vampire—sans gentility, have spilt their blood in hyper-stylized glee, for what seems to all to be eternity.” If Shakespeare had penned this gory update of Romeo and Juliet, its introduction might have gone something like that. But, alas, Underworld has more Blade than Bard in its pedigree. Blood rules. True, the movie’s source material provides a compelling plot, and introduces worthwhile themes such as the futility of racism and the ability of love to circumvent hatred. Added, explicit depictions of violence and gore, however, will send families searching for friendlier interpretations of Shakespeare’s text in bookstores, not the Cineplex.