Director : Len Wiseman
Screenplay : Danny McBride (story by Len Wiseman & Danny McBride)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Kate Beckinsale (Selene), Scott Speedman (Michael Corvin), Tony Curran (Marcus), Derek Jacobi (Corvinus), Bill Nighy (Viktor), Steven Mackintosh (Tanis), Shane Brolly (Kraven), Brian Steele (William), Zita Görög (Amelia), Scott McElroy (Soren), John Mann (Samuel), Michael Sheen (Lucian)
Loud, dark, and hopelessly enmeshed in loop-de-loop arcing plot mechanics that create more confusion than tension, Underworld: Evolution comes at you in an overenthusiastic bum rush, hoping to simply overwhelm your senses. Building on its predecessor, 2003’s Underworld, the sequel picks up the story of a 1,000-year-old covert war between vampires and werewolves (here called “lycans”), adding new layers by starting in flashback in the 13th century to locate the source of the conflict. In going back to the roots of the war, Evolution drops any pretenses toward the social critique suggested by the original’s decadent elite-versus-rebelling slaves narrative in favor of interpersonal conflict and familial squabbling.
The story is once again set in the cold, crumbling confines of an unnamed portion of Eastern Europe, and the protagonist is once again Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a sexy-lithe vampire assassin whose eyes were opened by betrayal the first time around. Along with Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), her vampire-lycan hybrid boyfriend, Selene is continuing to trace not only her betrayal by the upper echelon of vampire management (who betrayed whom, when, why, and where becomes so convoluted that it’s best to assume that everyone has betrayed everyone at some point or another and just drop it), but also the involvement of her family in the origins of the vampire-lycan feud. Her principal adversary is Marcus (Tony Curran), the primordial vampire whose goal is to free his brother, William, the primordial lycan, from imprisonment.
As Selene, Kate Beckinsale is given little to do other than glower and look good in body-hugging black spandex. Her relationship with Michael is as flat as the rest of the film is overextended, and all the slow-motion, candle-lit lovemaking in the world (contrasted by a kinky bit of vampire ménage-a-trois later in the film) is helpless in the face of their cardboard romantic dreariness. The villainous characters tend to have more life, but not quite enough to make them truly memorable.
The bombast of visual effects works off-handedly, in that they are at times frighteningly realistic, right down to the glistening spittle on a werewolf’s jaws, but they are often deployed with such a devil-may-care attitude that we get worn down to a nub long before the conclusion of the movie’s seemingly overlong 106 minutes. The climactic battle in particular runs on too long, with too many blaring machine guns and a resounding lack of finesse, although one has to admit that a baddie’s demise in the whirling blades of an upended helicopter has a vicious cathartic thrill.
Returning to the director’s chair for his second go-round, Len Wiseman pours on the hyperkinetic flourishes and maintains a virtually relentless blue-gray visual scheme that ensures a certain level of banal music-video slickness. His action scenes, which derive strongly from Matrix-style slow-motion gymnastics, veer wildly between the confusing and the exhilarating. An opening setpiece involving the vampire elite slaughtering a village of recently turned lycans is chaotic and confusing, but has just enough mix of action and freakiness to launch the film on the right foot.
Wiseman finds his peak in a delirious mountain road chase sequence involving Selene and Michael driving a massive flatbed truck while Marcus hovers and darts around them in winged bat mode. The scene’s wicked kick derives as much from the limited number of participants, thus keeping the action comprehensible, as it does from Wiseman’s successful intermixing of horror and action imagery. It’s exactly what Underworld: Evolution wants to do right, but frequently fails to accomplish.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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