The first Underworld was tedious and boring. The sequel, Underworld: Evolution, is actually a little more exciting but far more confusing. This is one of the more maddening franchises going right now, because so much potential is being wasted by director Len Wiseman, who can’t seem to get the formula right.
The film wasn’t screened for critics—a surprise considering that, like its predecessor, it’s not that bad. The lighting crew and makeup departments worked overtime to create something that looks decent. If you are a gore hound, then Underworld: Evolution should satisfy your need to see aortic sprays, jaw removals and disembowelments. Actually, this is one of the more violent films to come down the pike in quite some time, Hostel included.
Kate Beckinsale returns as the morose and bored Selene, a “death dealer” vampire in a long war to rid the planet of werewolves. Beckinsale looks the part and, once again, looks totally fabulous in her tight black outfit. But she has zero charisma as an action heroine. True, the role of a vampire should be somewhat somber, but Beckinsale makes it a total drag. Bill Nighy, who was beheaded in the first film but makes a brief Evolution appearance in flashback, has 10 times the excitement of Beckinsale as a bloodsucker. A vampire needn’t be a party monster, but nowhere is it written that a nosferatu should be a terminal bore.
Also returning is Scott Speedman (from TV’s Felicity) as Michael, the dreaded vampire-lycan hybrid who gets to show off his pecs for most of the movie. The script keeps stating that Michael is one of a kind and will have unbelievable powers. As it turns out, Michael’s only enhanced aptitude seems to be for wrestling smackdowns, which he constantly loses. The dude is always dying, constantly getting impaled, shot and shredded.
Meanwhile—well, good luck following the ridiculously twisty plotline. Given that the script isn’t impossible to decipher, Evolution makes you work way too hard to put the pieces together. Lots of vampire and werewolf lore is further confused by the fact that many of the characters look and sound the same. You might want to take along a notepad to keep track of who is who’s brother and which guy is the “father of all vampires” and whatnot. Prepare to be infuriated.
As far as I could gather, a flashback reveals that an out-of-control werewolf was banished for eternity by Viktor (Nighy), and his vampire brother Marcus (Tony Curran) has been stewing for centuries in his coven, ready to exact revenge. When Marcus is inadvertently awakened by a seep of blood into his sleep lair, he immediately takes to killing everybody on a quest to find his brother’s eternal prison and set him free.
Major props go out to those who designed Marcus, a rather nifty vampire creation. He is especially nasty when taking a bat-like form: a gray, muscular beast with wings that stab its prey. While the werewolves in the film are routine, Marcus the flying vampire makes an interesting addition to cinematic vampire characters. Actually, a movie called Marcus the Crazy-Ass Flying Vampire, with just one character swooping around and wreaking havoc, could’ve been far more captivating.
As with the first film, the actors still haven’t mastered the art of delivering lines through large prosthetic teeth. Before the Underworld franchise comes to an end, it’s likely that a new cinema profession will be created, that of the spit wiper. That’ll be the person running around with rags, toweling off the actors after a toothy vampire has delivered a lively, frothy monologue.
A good opening weekend for this one means that chapter three is probably on the way. Should the screenwriters choose to calm down and streamline the story so that it is at least comprehensible, there might be hope for this franchise. As it stands, the whole affair is rather anemic.