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The Underworld franchise (A Series Review/Honest Thoughts)

A bloody, semi-convoluted ride into a long-standing feud between vampires and werewolves spanning centuries

By Taylor BitzPublished 2 months ago 11 min read
The theatrical poster for the first Underworld film (2003) starring Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman and Michael Sheen

If someone would have told me that I would actually enjoy this series a couple months ago, I would have probably laughed. That, or probably gone, "No, that looks creepy." And it kind of did. But now that I'm really into gothic horror, it's a series that's truly one of a kind. All five movies bombed at the box office to brutal reviews damning the franchise, but it gained a cult following all the same, and that's why so many were made. Oddly enough, Underworld (2003) isn't even the first one chronologically, though it was the first one released. The first film chronologically in the series is Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009), which follows the beginning of the war between lycans (half werewolf and half man, they can change at will between the two) and an all-powerful race of vampires who once kept lycans as slaves and bodyguards, believing them to be a threat to their kind.

For the most part, the storyline is executed brilliantly. Although, this is coming from someone who likes to watch terrible movies for fun, so this might just be my own bias. The story begins with Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, and we meet Lucian, the first of the lycans and therefore the most powerful of his race, being born in a jail cell underneath the castle of Viktor (played by Bill Nighy, remember Davy Jones from Pirates of the Carribean, anyone?). Viktor is an old grump, but he's cunning. Too cunning. Lucian is raised within the castle, and later becomes essentially the "father" for the lycan race that live and work in what is pretty much slavery within Viktor's walls. Not far into the film, we meet Sonja (played by Rhona Mitra) who we very quickly discover is not only the only daughter of Viktor, but is involved in an illicit relationship with Lucian.

(oh, and did I mention that Lucian is played by Michael Sheen of all people?! Blew my mind away that the sweet, pacifist angel Aziraphale, the silly Volturi leader Aro with the weird laugh, and Lucian the powerful, dark, mysterious lycan warrior are all played by the same person)

Lucian soon finds a way to get out from under the thumb of his master (not without a tragic loss of course), and what happens next will set the course for the rest of the franchise. Not only does it set the tone for the rest of the franchise as a prequel, but it also sets Lucian's story in motion as the progenitor of the lycan race that becomes the primary protagonists of the series as they fight the race of vampires.

The second entry in the series (well, technically the first if you watch it in theatrical release order) is Underworld (2003). We are introduced this time to Selene (played by Kate Beckinsale), a vampire assassin known as a "Death Dealer", who are trained specifically to rid the world of lycans. For those who watch the prequel film first (to those who pay close attention), Selene is a direct copy of Viktor's daughter, Sonja, and the reason for that isn't revealed until much later in the film, near the brutal climax that sees the centuries-old vampire leader Viktor get his due punishment for certain atrocities (of which I will not explain as I will not give spoilers). This film also sees the surprise re-introduction of Lucian (who is no less aged as the lycan leader, but comes across as much more dark and cunning, and the reason for that also echoes "SPOILER" in big neon lights for the prequel). A new player is a young human named Michael Corvin (played by Scott Spellman), who is relentlessly hunted down by both the vampire and lycan communities. Except, Lucian gets to him first. The reason: no one knows why, and it's not exactly revealed until the next film.

Most of this first film is spent with a slight bit of political intrigue, as a newly resurrected Viktor and his right-hand man (also Selene's boss), Kraven, fight over leadership and what to do about Selene after she goes rogue attempting to protect Michael. What happens next is a rollercoaster that sees the permanent exit (the death kind) of two characters and Michael's rebirth as both a lycan and a vampire, a hybrid if you will.

The third entry in this franchise, Underworld: Evolution (2006), sees Michael Corvin and Selene on the run after Viktor's vampire family/coven is dismantled. Slowly, the vampire and the hybrid fall in love, but their newfound love is threatened by the arrival of Marcus Corvinus (played by Tony Curran). After a tumultuous chase scene, Michael and Selene enlist the help of an old vampire historian who was exiled by Viktor after some rather dicey arrangements were made with a certain powerful lycan (if you know you know). This historian lives in extravagant comfort, due to his associations with said lycan, but doesn't get to enjoy his comforts for long. Selene and Michael get their lead and leave and shortly after, Marcus arrives, killing the exiled vampire.

Selene and Michael make their way to a military base, and attempt in vain to enlist the help of Alexander Corvinus, who, as it turns out, is Marcus' father, and it's soon revealed that Marcus is actually seeking his twin brother, William. Michael is also revealed to be deeply entrenched in the Corvinus bloodline, and that's how he was able to become both vampire and lycan with that little bit of help from Lucian. As it also turns out, Alexander is the father of both vampires and werewolves, with Marcus inheriting the vampire genetics after he was bitten by a bat, and William inherited the wolf genetics after he was bitten by a wolf. Despite the overwhelming evidence that neither brother can be controlled due to their animalistic natures, Alexander refuses to help, giving his aid only at the most desperate hour after Marcus kills him. In his dying moments, he gives Selene her blood, allowing her to gain enhanced vampiric powers and the strength to take on Marcus.

The fourth entry in the franchise, Underworld: Awakening (2012) takes place not long after the events of the previous film and depicts humans struggling with the purported "outbreak" of "infected" humans with both lycan and vampire genetics. As a result, Michael and Selene are separated and placed into cryo-freeze chambers, where scientists attempt to study their genetics as a means of hopefully saving the human race via inoculation of a vaccine. When Selene wakes and subsequently escapes, she has no memory of what happened after they killed Marcus and William. And so, she goes on a lone woman search for her lover, and encounters a young girl named Eve and a vampire similar to her, named David (played by India Eisley and Theo James respectively). David and Selene form an alliance in an attempt to protect Eve from being hunted by both the lycan and vampire race. The reason: no one knows why. After Eve is captured by the scientists, the two enlist the help of a human detective (played by Michael Ealy) and break into the facility to rescue Eve.

The final entry in the franchise, Underworld: Blood Wars (2016) takes us back to the lone woman act with Selene, with Eve seemingly gone. We later learn that she had been bargained off by Selene for her survival, but she doesn't know where. Michael is still nowhere to be seen, and Selene teams up with David again to attempt to find him. The two make their way to a lone vampire coven in a frozen wasteland after narrowly escaping an ambitious vampire who attempts to kill them, along with her rather submissive henchman, and a small army of lycans led by a man named Marius (played by Tobias Menzies from the later seasons of The Crown).

Upon their arrival to the vampire coven, David discovers his true parentage - his mother was one of the Grand Elders, who was murdered around the time of the first Underworld film after Selene essentially revolted against Viktor and Kraven. David at first refuses his parentage, but in the middle of a bloody battle, he finally takes up the sword that his mother had left behind for him and helps Selene and the vampire coven fight against the lycans. Near the end of the fight, Selene and Marius engage in combat, and Selene is seemingly killed, leaving David devastated. He returns to his old coven and declares himself the rightful heir, showing the vampire council a vision via a drop of his deceased mother's blood. The ambitious vampire Semira (played by Lara Pulver) is incensed, and later, she is dispatched by David not long after Selene arrives, seemingly resurrected by the coven that lives in the frozen wasteland. Selene's look and powers are also upgraded, including enhanced speed and silver hair.

Marius and Selene meet again, and he reveals through a drop of his blood that Michael Corvin, her former lover and Eve's father, is indeed dead. Enraged and fuelled by memories of the time that the pair spent together, she rips out Marius' spine. With all their foes taken care of, David takes his rightful place, with Selene chosen as an Elder, along with the daughter of the vampire coven in the frozen wasteland. In a rather anti-climatic ending, Eve is revealed to have followed Selene to the coven in the frozen wasteland, following the telepathic link that they share, which was displayed in the beginning of the fourth film.

Final thoughts:

The Underworld franchise is certainly formulaic in the theme of vampires vs werewolves, but it doesn't stop the series from having its own unique flavour and spins on the tale. The strongest films in the franchise are both the prequel film, Rise of the Lycans (with the very talented Michael Sheen heading the film) and the first official entry in the series, Underworld (2003). Kate Beckinsale certainly does a brilliant job playing Selene, and I will most definitely be cosplaying her at the next Comic-Con I go to in inner-city Melbourne.

I'd officially give the entire franchise a rating of about 6 out of 10. I think the films put far too much emphasis on senseless violence, and this is coming from someone who's generally okay with violence in films. Also, the sex scenes, as few and far between as they are, are really rather graphic, especially the scene between Michael and Selene in Underworld: Evolution. It tends to make it an uncomfortable watch for me. I'd rate Rise of the Lycans at least a 7.5 out of 10, if not an 8, and that's simply because Michael Sheen's acting, as well as the emotional gut punch that the climax of the film delivers, saves the entire film from it being an absolute flop. Also, Rise of the Lycans gave me a new appreciation for Michael Sheen's acting, other than Good Omens, of course. He's pretty weird in Twilight, but then again, all of Twilight sucks, so it's not a surprise, really at all.

But aside from all that, it was still an enjoyable watch, as the vampire vs werewolf genre never ceases to excite me, and especially since Vampire Diaries and its respective spinoffs also still very much have a cult following. I suppose the Underworld franchise is still better than the whole of the Legacies TV show, or perhaps even the later seasons of the Vampire Diaries. I would still very much recommend the Underworld franchise, and I would highly suggest that you begin with Rise of the Lycans to fully understand the scope of the war between vampires and werewolves and its origins before diving into Underworld (2003). If you look up the watching order, it will also suggest you watch Underworld: Endless War. Ignore that suggestion. It's an anime compilation with three short films that show what the vampire protagonist of Underworld, Selene, was up to before the events of the first Underworld film. But I do recommend you ignore it entirely. It's not exactly central to the plot, more of just a small spinoff.

If you do want to watch it, though, you'll find it on YouTube in its entirety, although the quality is not great. It might be some other obscure streaming service, but I'm not sure which one that might be.

Happy watching! If you want to support me, please subscribe and keep reading my stories!! And also comment too, it increases engagement on my stories. I'm currently trying to make a living off of being an author at the moment, so if you'd like to support me that way, head to Amazon and buy one of my books, I've got two sci fi books out at the moment.

Look up my author pen name, T.H. Bitz, and you'll be able to find my two books. The first one is 2153: Captive, and the second is 2154: A New World. You can get both for either Kindle or paperback, and they're fairly inexpensive. I'm working on the third book now, and it should be out for release either at the end of this month or sometime around the middle of next month.


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About the Creator

Taylor Bitz

Hi!! My name is Taylor.

I'm big on writing about fanfiction, movies, TV and of course my own original stories (mostly fantasy stories, featuring bad-ass female characters)

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  • Alex H Mittelman 2 months ago

    Great work!

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