Having enjoyed Underworld, I was glad they made the sequel, Underworld: Evolution. According to the IGN review:
If a movie featuring vampires and werewolves fighting with guns, claws, swords and teeth doesn’t sound like engaging, messy fun to you, stop reading you aren’t going to like Underworld, let alone its extra-bloody sequel Underworld: Evolution, which releases to theaters today.
For those who are down with all things either furry, bleeding, or covered in skintight leather, this is the film for you; a worthy sequel to its predecessor, and a much better ride on several levels. Where the original spent a good deal of time setting up the reasons for the battle between vampires and werewolves (or Lycans, as they’re called here), this one does a decent job of letting the battle simply play out. There are lagging sections of exposition, but nowhere near as many as the first film, and many of them are told in flashback, giving the audience a first-hand glimpse at the proceedings.
Kate Beckinsale reprises her role (and wardrobe) from the first film; a vampire named Selene who is known as a Death Dealer, charged with the task of ridding the world of Lycans. At the end of Underworld, she learns of a betrayal that changes the path of her life, and this film explores the repercussions of that. The biggest of these is her relationship with Michael (Scott Speedman), a hybrid vampire/Lycan who looks a lot like The X-Men’s Nightcrawler on ‘roids in his changed state.
Since vampires and Lycans have literally been at each others’ throats throughout history, their affair does not go down well on either side, and in the beginning of this film (which picks up right after the events of the original), Selene and Michael are on the run, and defending themselves against all comers.
At the same time, the Lycan blood that made its way to Marcus, the last remaining vampire Elder, has transformed him into a super-charged, winged beast (think the flying creature from Jeepers Creepers after a couple hundred bowls of Wheaties), and he is out to exact revenge on everyone who has wronged him. His idea of a good time is to find an enemy, pin him to the wall with his bony wing-tips and rip off his head.
In fact, Marcus’ bloodletting is one of the true joys of the film. For horror fans, there are some righteous kills and Marcus is usually at the center of them. Jaws are dismantled, heads disintegrated, and scores of folks are shot up in the tech-heavy war. It all looks a lot better than in the first outing; the effects have been upgraded considerably. The werewolves themselves their transformation sequences and their movement, especially are leaps ahead of the ones on display in Underworld.
The whole production seems to have gotten a bump. Director Len Wiseman is very comfortable mixing genres, and the result is something that feels a lot like the successful albeit campy Blade trilogy. While much of the original seemed like cookie-cutter scenes culled from The Matrix and the aforementioned Blade films, Evolution gets more creative, carving out its own identity in the action/gore sequences.
Where the film falls down is in trying to strike an emotional chord. We feel something for Selene, and to some degree her Lycan hybrid lover Michael, but there is not enough to get too emotionally involved in the proceedings. Part of this is due to the fact that all of the characters are so “other.” In many ways, it’s like watching superheroes fight without finding out what they’re like when they aren’t saving the world.
A further barrier is that the main characters in this fantastical realm are essentially monsters, and instead of exploring what it is to truly be one of them, the film gets bogged down in explaining how the two strains of beings came to be. When the movie stops to explain vampire/Lycan politics (which it does more than it should) or attempts a poignant moment, it is not nearly as interesting as when the teeth are flashing and blood is spraying. Ultimately, at 106 minutes, the movie is about 15 minutes too long. This is mash-up of many genres, but its main driving force is action, so when it isn’t occurring, the film lags.
The cast does a noble job, although most of their work is in two shades of emotion: angry and sad. In two films, it’s difficult to remember a single character smiling or laughing (even in a maniacal, bloodthirsty way). Kate Beckinsale is cute as a button in her leather skinsuit, but she isn’t going to be Transylvania’s sweetheart if she doesn’t grin and show those fangs once in awhile. Bill Nighy, in his appearance as the vampire Viktor, almost steals the show with his gloriously evil line delivery.
In the end, Evolution follows all sequel rules: more action, more nudity, more villains; but manages to be better than the original by keeping the action coming. Sure, there is some tightening that could have made the exposition flow faster, but overall this is a solid genre picture with killer action and plenty of satisfying death-dealing.