Be sure to check out the Video Lab Podcast, where Sam and I talk about this movie in more detail.
It’s possibly a sign of this particular era of action films, but fight scenes in “Underworld,” at heart an action movie, are chaotic nonsense with relentless machine gun spray and a Matrix-esque reliance on slow motion, feeling cheap and over the top without actually conveying any intensity. That also shows itself in what is likely technical limitations, where in a movie about werewolves and vampires, it is notable that confrontations between the two species doesn’t result in dramatic fight scenes so much as odd stare-downs, and predominately the aforementioned gun sprays.
The werewolf hunting vampire protagonist played by Kate Beckinsale, Selene, is not a compelling character. She doesn’t add much to the film other than numerous moody stares and a deeply unconvincing romance with the film’s missing link character, Michael, who is equally uncompelling and uninteresting. In fact, most characters in “Underworld” are driven by some combination of weak performances or writing. The glaring exception are good performances from Michael Sheen’s werewolf antagonist Lucian, and Bill Nighy’s vampire warlord, Viktor.
Spoiler alert for this nearly twenty year old film, the worst scene consists of a final showdown between Selene and Viktor, where Selene does a dramatic slow motion samurai style jump in which she apparently slices with microscopic precision through Viktor’s head, but he still manages to turn around and draw daggers to fight, only to suddenly feel and succumb to the fact that his head is indeed cut in two. Perhaps something about a vampire’s mythical anatomy makes this less ridiculous, but the scene nonetheless feels like a whiffing climax.
What might be the only thing holding “Underworld” above the lower end of mediocrity is fairly interesting lore on the origins of vampires and werewolves, and the societies they developed, combined with a visually interesting dark aesthetic. That lore isn’t consistently well presented, and at times is delivered through forced exposition. But it is this foundation which evidently lends itself to how the series went on to several other movies of, according to a quick search of their Rotten Tomatoes ratings, probably more mediocre quality.