Director: Len Wiseman
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Derek Jacobi, Bill Nighy
MPAA Rating: (for pervasive strong violence and gore, some sexuality/nudity and language)
Running Time: 1:45
Release Date: 1/20/06
Review by Mark Dujsik
If Underworld was all setup for a sequel, then Underworld: Evolution is the payoff. Here's the paradox: Because the setup was far from involving because it was all setup, the payoff is just as distancing. Don't get me wrong, the second Underworld is a slightly better movie than its predecessor, but honestly, that's not saying much. The original didn't make a lick of sense, since all of the important details of the situation at hand were saved until the finale as a series of twists for the central character, but the sequel makes a few licks of sense. The plot is more straightforward, pitting two people against both sides of the vampire/lycan (werewolf) war that has been raging for centuries. Or maybe they're only fighting for one side. Or maybe the two sides need each other. Or maybe, just maybe, neither side should exist. All right, maybe the story isn't quite so clear, but I certainly had a better idea of what a good number of the important characters were trying to do and why than I did the last time around. See, that's why it's not saying much that the sequel to a confusing, muddled movie is slightly superior to the confounding, puzzling original.
The story picks up almost immediately after the events of the first movie, finding vampire and former Death Dealer (read werewolf hunter) Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and vampire/lycan hybrid Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman) are on the run after Selene violently disowned her own kind. It seems that when the Death Dealers awoke the original vampire Marcus (Tony Curran) at the end of the last movie, they unwittingly set in motion the head honcho's quest to redeem himself to his brother William (Brian Steele), the original lycan. Through a lot of flashbacks to the events of the first movie, Marcus learns that the key to unlocking and the location of his brother's prison, in which the werewolf has been locked up for about eight centuries, lie in the hands and memory of Selene. Marcus hunts down the pair and begins his quest to unlock his brother's jail, but that could mean a heightening of the war between the two races. With the help of a mysterious man named Corvinus (Derek Jacobi, the movie doesn't deserve him, but there he is), who knows more about Marcus and William perhaps than anyone, Selene realizes the gravity of the situation and begins her own crusade to stop Marcus.
The movie opens with a prologue set in 1202 AD (not 1200 or 1201, mind you, but 1202), where Marcus, last-time-around villain Viktor (Bill Nighy), and a group of early Death Dealers fight off lycans in a village, and for some reason, the setting and the scenario just feels right. This is the kind of thing I have in mind when I think of vampires and werewolves warring—vampires on horseback with swords as werewolves pounce on and gnarl at them. The rest of the movie takes place in modern times, but whereas the original was set against the backdrop of an anonymous European city, here the tale spreads across terrain more accustomed to the material. We see old castles, monasteries, roadways on cliffs—locations prime for this mythology—and it fits just right. Guns are still the preferred weapon, but instead of the convention of silver and ultra-violet bullets that turn supernatural creatures into mere targets for mortal decay which made these creatures so boringly ordinary the first time around, bullets simply slow them down this time around. It's a simple move, but it makes the characters more, well, supernatural.
There are a couple of good action sequences here. The first has Selene and Michael in a pickup truck fighting off a flying version of Marcus along a cliff, and the final fight makes interesting use of a crashed helicopter. In between, though, is that convoluted story. You may have noticed my extensive mentions of referencing back to the original movie in the plot summary, and the movie is overwhelmed with flashbacks. Surely they are helpful since I for one hardly remember the first movie, but there sure are a lot to get through before the real guts of this story get started and just as many once it does. They aren't just flashbacks to the first movie but flashbacks of events we saw half-an-hour ago. They're used to explain why Selene kills a group of teammates who are turned to werewolves (I figured the fact that they were turned to werewolves and are trying to kill her was enough) and why, in an entirely frustrating turn of fortune, one character comes back from the dead. More importantly, they're lazy script devices that reveal screenwriter Danny McBride's uncertainty with his story.
Somewhere deep down, I want to like these movies. It's the little boy in me that thinks seeing vampires and werewolves fighting an eternal struggle is cool. Underworld: Evolution has a few moments that reached me on that level, but the majority of the movie is overcome by a plot that even the filmmakers don't seem to understand and certainly do not display the capacity convey.
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.