Underworld: Evolution, Not So Much Evolving as Staying on Par

Underworld: Evolution continues the story of leather-clad, wolf-trouncing Selene (Kate Beckinsale), an outcast, as it were, among vampires. She’s a Capricorn and enjoys late night strolls through the woods, dealing out her own brand of justice, and killing the leaders of her vampire coven. Turn-ons include leather and half-werewolf, half-vampire hybrids. It’s a good thing that she was able to save Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), who just happens to be the only half-werewolf, half vampire hybrid at the end of Underworld. Underworld: Evolution opens, after a rather grizzly and violent prologue as well as an unnecessary recap of the previous film (fans will know what happened and those dumb enough to jump into the story with this movie can pick up plenty from Markus’s blood memory escapades), with them on the run through a non-specific Eastern European countryside. I guess it’s safe to conclude that it’s Hungary given that the setting of the first film was the gothic district of Budapest. Seems like everyone wants to kill Selene and Michael these days. Their sole motivation is just staying alive, what with the whole of vampire- and werewolf-dom after them. Chief among those chasing them is Markus Corvinus (Tony Curran), the recently reanimated vampire elder, strengthened by werewolf blood. As far as bad guys go, he’s pretty bad. He has a nasty habit of killing everyone he comes across (he’s bad at parties) and he mentions something about becoming a god or something, which I’ve been socialized to see as unforgivable.

The movie works in its own right. The action has been amped up quite a bit, and the plot gets exponentially more complicated with each scene. There are pacing issues, largely due to the massive amount of information the filmmakers try to get across to the viewers. There is a lot of exposition. A lot. Granted, it’s balanced by hyper-active action sequences but it gives the film a choppy feel. We move a hundred miles an hour through a fight and then slow to a crawl as plot twist after soap operatic plot twist unfolds. There’s really only one gaping plot hole but for the sake of spoilers I won’t mention it. The movie (for the most part) moves so quickly that you don’t really question anything–you’re too busy absorbing all the new exposition you’re getting.

The fight scenes are alright. There’s one in particular that I liked. Near the beginning, Selene systematically takes apart a troupe of policemen chasing Michael. She accomplishes this in Batman-esque fashion, swooping down and dispatching them with a few quick stock kung fu moves. But when it comes to the fighting between vampires or vampire versus werewolf, it just becomes a contest to see who can hit the other hardest. You’d think that if they (vampires or werewolves) were fighting a war for hundreds and hundreds of years, they would develop a style of fighting each other. Guess not. Or, I guess that is their style. Though the scope of each fight is impressive, I found myself missing just that bit of polish.

Kate Beckinsale seems more comfortable in the role, especially the action sequences, and Scott Speedman growls with appropriate ferocity. The filmmakers also took a page out of Brian Singer’s X-men book, opting for Great Britain’s finest when casting the new characters. Tony Curran bites into his meaty role with the ferocity of his character, Markus. Steven Mackintosh also delivers a wonderful performance as the vampire historian, Andreas Tanis. Lastly (but not leastly), Derek Jacobi lends the grand-daddy of all monsters a restrained passion and subtlety that stands in stark genius to Bill Nighy‘s overenthusiastic Viktor. But the filmmakers don’t take full advantage of Jacobi’s power–or rather, his character is lacking in complexity. His potential is undercut by a lame plot device. C’est la vie.

All in all, you could do worse than see Underworld: Evolution. It’s violent, it’s over-the-top, but it has its moments. If you like action, if you like gore, and especially if you like Underworld, you will like the sequel (possibly more). It’s . . . mostly coherent, but you don’t watch a movie like this for its coherence. A renter, if nothing else.

Underworld: Evolution gets 2.5 stars out of 5.

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