Oct 062006
four reels

In the aftermath of the vampire-lycan war, undead warrior Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and half-breed werewolf Michael (Scott Speedman) are on the run from the newly-risen and mutated vampire Marcus (Tony Curran).  To save themselves, and possibly the world, the two must dig into the forbidden history of the vampires and werewolves, as well as find a mysterious man (Derek Jacobi) who has been “cleaning up” after both factions for years.

Sequels seldom go right; either they copy the first film, or completely forget about what made the original worthy of a sequel.  Underworld: Evolution is the rarity.  It keeps the slam-bam action, sensuality, and beauty of Underworld, and adds in a new and compelling story.  This is how a sequel ought to work.

Once again, we are tossed into the complex and unexplained world of sexy, vinyl-clad, vampire fashion models and hulking, savage werewolves, and it’s a pretty cool place to be.  These are pretty, pretty people (add in another “pretty” or two) who dress well and ooze grace.  There’s a bit less posing this time around, as everyone is too busy running or fighting for their lives, but even while leaping over dead bodies, the corseted Beckinsale looks like she could be on a gothic catwalk.  Speedman can’t compete in the wardrobe department, but as he loses his shirt for half the film, I’m sure his fans won’t feel deprived.

Director Len Wiseman (who happens to be Mr. Kate Beckinsale) makes it clear with a blue-washed pallet and stylized combat, that this isn’t our world.  It is a grander, scarier, fairytale land.  No one mumbles about their day.  When they speak, it is in clipped, bold, heroic tones.  But in this fantasy place, romance and emotion are best expressed with an intense gaze followed by a killing spree.  Why say “I love you” to that special someone when you can show it by ripping the heart out of your lover’s adversary?

I’ve been listing the merits of Wiseman’s vision (and of screenwriter Danny McBride’s), but that is hardly helpful.  If you’ve seen Underworld, you already know all about it.  If you liked it there, you’ll like it here (and vice versa).  And if you haven’t seen Underworld, go buy it—it is well worth the price.  Sure, Evolution spends a few minutes attempting to get viewers up-to-speed, but it is both insufficient for the uninitiated and unnecessary for everyone else.

For those of you who liked the first film, you’ll be happy with this one.  The pace is again lightning-fast, the effects improved (and they weren’t exactly lacking in the first outing), and the world has expanded (though don’t think you’ll get too many answers; there is still no explanation of why the Corvinus family became immortal long ago).  Almost every character’s motivation is hard to fathom (why did Marcus wait eight hundred years to act?), but such problems are lost in a blaze of machinegun fire.  Those gunshots have moved from Underworld’s urban setting to rural roads, frozen forests, ancient monasteries, and ruined castles, and they all look as sharp as the city did.  There are new mysteries, new powers, and new ways to slice bodies into tiny pieces.  The climactic battles had the preview audience cheering and shouting.  (I sat quietly, but only because I’m not the cheering sort.)

Underworld: Evolution is primarily an action flick, but an elegant one that avoids gritty, cops-and-killers clichés.  It has plenty to please gore-hounds, but nothing that’s too intense to interfere with the fun atmosphere.

Kate Beckinsale also starred in the action-horror romp, Van Helsing (2004) and the ghost story Haunted (1995).  She had supporting roles in the Shakespearian features Much Ado About Nothing (1993) and Prince of Jutland (1994).