#3 in my ranking of the Underworld franchise.
This feels like the next episode in a serial, picking up right where the previous episode left off to tell just the next adventure in the exciting life and times of Seline, vampire Death Dealer. It’s a good thing that I have such affection for the first film because I’m not sure I would have tolerated the rather empty genre exercise that is the second entry in the Underworld series as much as I do. Len Wiseman proved with his sophomore directorial effort that he could manage action scenes well beyond his first effort, and that he provided little more than a strong professional sheen to a script that honestly needed some work. It also becomes tradition that these movies bring in excellent British acting talent to class up the joint far more than it deserves.
Seline (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman) are on the run immediately after the death of Viktor (Bill Nighy) at Seline’s hands. The leadership of the vampire coven now falls to the final of the three vampire elders, Marcus (Tony Curran). Awakened by the blood memories of the man who helped Lucian, the lycan, figure out the bloodlines of Alexander Corvinus (Derek Jacobi), Marcus comes into the world winged, angry, and determined to bring his brother, William, the first of the werewolves, out from his captivity. Freed from operating under the thumb of Viktor who had protected Seline, Marcus needs Seline’s blood for her memories on the final resting place of his brother. So begins the chase of the film.
Along the sides, monitoring, is Alexander Corvinus, the father of Marcus and William, the first of the vampires and werewolves, who lives on a shipping vessel with a massive spying apparatus to help him keep track of what’s going on. He watches as Seline tries to figure out what’s going on by visiting an exiled vampire historian (Steven Mackintosh) and Michael learns the thirst inherent to his vampire/lycan state.
What’s kind of interesting is that Seline and Michael are not the emotional center of this film. If there is one, it’s Marcus. Seline and Michael are largely non-entities, there to drive the plot forward with affectation of an emotional journey. They have fallen in love, make love, and worry for each other as they go into and out of danger. Marcus, finally rebelling against the power structure that had kept his brother in chains for literally centuries, finding a new path forward, is actually far more interesting. Played by Tony Curran, he’s actually given a shocking amount of pathos, a real benefit of hiring good actors to fulfill roles in even silly movies like this. It’s kind of weird that the bad guy gets a more interesting emotional journey than the protagonists, but that’s kind of why this movie isn’t actually good.
Where this movie actually is good is in the same places as its predecessor. The action sequences are really well-filmed, and the acting is far better than the movie deserves. Bill Nighy comes back for a prologue sequence with Marcus, and he chews up the scenery in the way that only he knows how to do, channeling his later performance as Davey Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Derek Jacobi has all of his scenes in one room (he is an old man), and he brings meaning to his part as Corvinus, the man who has let loose upon the world both vampires and lycans, unwilling to end both races because they are led by his own son. Beckinsale shows that she has every right to be an actress instead of just a model by delivering her lines effectively again. Thankfully, Kraven gets murdered in the first full scene, and we are saved from Shane Brolly’s acting beyond a few seconds, and those seconds involve him dying horribly. So that’s nice.
The plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, mostly because it’s not told terribly clearly. It mostly has to do with a chase between Seline and Marcus to get to William first. Marcus wins that race, and we get an extended, well-filmed action sequence as Seline and Michael face off against Marcus and William. Bodies get thrown around, torn apart, and into helicopter blades. It’s solid, gory fun.
Is this series good? Not really. Do I see the entertainment value of it? Yes, very much. It still manages to take itself too seriously, loving its lore far more than it needs to without a wink to the audience, but the silliness of the film has become too evident to ignore. Either treat the film far less seriously in tone, or treat the story as seriously as the tone you want to use. The movie exists in the middle ground, and it’s kind of frustrating. As it stands, the movie’s fine, the sort of entertainment that can occupy without really engaging for a couple of hours. Much like the first one.