Underworld: Evolution (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Some reviews virtually write themselves, and this is an example. Underworld: Evolution is so much like its predecessor, Underworld, in story, approach, look, and feel that an extended discussions of its merits (and lack thereof) seems redundant. Suffice it to say that if you're a fan of the first vampires vs. werewolves tale, there's little reason to believe you won't be as entertained by the sequel. Underworld: Evolution is designed with Underworld fans in mind. Others need not apply.

Kate Beckinsale is back as Selene, the sexiest female vampire since Monica Bellucci bared her fangs (and more) in Francis Ford Coppola's misguided adaptation of Dracula. This film picks up where the last one left off, with Selene and her half-werewolf/half-vampire lover, Michael (Scott Speedman) on the run after having disposed of the Big Bad Guy, Viktor (Bill Nighy, his overacting reduced to flashbacks). But since there wouldn't be a movie without a villain, we're introduced to Big Bad Guy #2, Marcus (Tony Curran), an older vampire than Viktor. And, to make things more interesting, he has a twin brother named William, who happens to be the original werewolf. Just wait till you meet their father… So, while Selene and Michael are trying to figure out how to stop Marcus' plans of world domination (or whatever megalomaniacal goals he has - he mentions something about being a god at one point), a mysterious figure (Derek Jacobi) waits and watches, collecting artifacts and biding his time.

For a movie with such a linear storyline, Underworld: Evolution has a surprisingly dense narrative. This is not necessarily a good thing, since it requires a lot of wordy exposition and several flashbacks to kind-of bring viewers up to date. The plot, boiled down to the bare essentials, represents little more than a chase with occasional detours. The several lengthy fights, including the climactic one, are more ambitious than anything attempted in the original Underworld. Overall, however, there's not enough story to warrant 105 minutes of cinema. And the kinetic energy evident in the repetitive battle sequences makes the "in between" scenes seem more inert than one might expect.

Underworld: Evolution advances the love story between Selene and Michael to the point where the two engage in some kinky sex (by definition, I suppose sex between a half-werewolf and a vampire must be kinky). Beckensale doffs her skin-tight leather suit to frolic in the nude (although whether that's her body, a CGI representation, a body double, or some combination of the above is known only to her and her husband, director Len Wiseman). I have to admit being touched by aspects of the romance - at least until the script resorted to cheating. (If you see Underworld: Evolution, you'll know what I'm referring to. If you don't, you won't care.)

Visually, the second Underworld replicates the first. Everything is gray and grimy, and there's a monochromatic, metallic look to each scene. Instead of using dissonant rock on the soundtrack, Wiseman has elected to go a more traditional route this time, relying on master horror composer Marco Beltrami for the score. The CGI, which is copiously employed, is mostly effective, although some scenes, primarily those featuring werewolf transformations or Bill Nighy, look a little cartoonish.

Kate Beckinsale shows more polish here than in Underworld. With Van Helsing sandwiched in between, she must be at home with monsters by now. She fills out the suit nicely, but she's not as stiff. A plot "twist" also allows her to do a little acting. Scott Speedman satisfies the requisite of his role: look good without a shirt. Tony Curran is a weak villain, although most of the time the makeup department gives him a boost. With enough prosthetics, anyone can be scary. Finally, Derek Jacobi brings an element of class to the proceedings (and does so without overacting, a seeming impossibility in an endeavor like this). I won't speculate why Jacobi is here, but his presence is welcome, even if his screen time is too limited.

Underworld: Evolution is representative of the "modern" vampire movie - loud, violent, and raucous. Gone are the days when vampire movies were masterpieces of mood, subdued terror, repressed sexuality, and restrained gore. Instead of a trickle of blood on the neck, we now have vats of it splattering all over the place. Calling Underworld: Evolution a horror movie would be a misnomer. This is an action/adventure film that happens to feature vampires and werewolves. It's not the best or the worst of its kind. I can't say I was bored, but I have a hard time recommending this as anything but late-night cable fare.

Underworld: Evolution (United States, 2006)

Director: Len Wiseman
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Derek Jacobi, Bill Nighy
Screenplay: Danny McBride
Cinematography: Simon Duggan
Music: Marco Beltrami
U.S. Distributor: Screen Gems
Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2006-01-20
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1