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Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Derek Jacobi, Steven Mackintosh, Brian Steele

Written By: Danny McBride (also story), Len Wiseman (story)

Directed By: Len Wiseman

The Short Version

Even though it was made three years later, this sequel picks up exactly where the first film left off.

Apparently, some of the sharpness and polish wore off after three years.

Underworld: Evolution is much more concerned with classical lore than its predecessor was.

The original was great despite its flaws; the sequel is good despite its flaws.

If you liked the original, then it’s worth picking up Underworld: Evolution for the pair.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


Blue tint, bleu cheese.  Crumbles easily if you make any effort to do so, but still very tasty.

Pairs Well With...


Made in Canada, check.  Bat reference, bonus.  Blue reference, check.  Lighter than its namesake, check.  Still good enough to drink, check.

“What will I become?”

“The future.”

Usually, when someone looks at a gorgeous woman and compliments her beautiful blue eyes, the reference is really to something else.  But when I first saw the advance poster for Underworld: Evolution – which is a very simply designed close up of Kate Beckinsale’s face with two guns crossed before her – it truly was the striking ice blue eyes that caught me first, even before I connected the poster with the movie.  Indeed, it remains one of my favorite posters in my collection for that very reason.

Not to give too much away, but in the very last scene of Underworld: Evolution, those striking blue eyes that she’s had since the opening scene of the first movie change color.  This is what’s known as messing with something that already worked just fine.  The result still looks good (come on, this is still Kate Beckinsale), but something nevertheless has been lost.

Call what happens to our leading lady’s eyes a metaphor for what happens to the sequel in relation to its predecessor.  Still just fine to look at, but not as striking.

Two quick notes before we get to the plot, though.  First, if you haven’t seen the first film yet, you’ll definitely want to before you have a go at this one, because it will not make a whole lot of sense without an understanding of what happened before.  Second, being that this is a direct sequel and all, though I’ll try to keep them to a minimum, some spoilers about the original may lie ahead.  You’ve been warned.

We begin with some title cards that remind the audience about the war between vampires and Lycans (better known to you and I as werewolves).  Concise version: once upon a time, there was by freak of nature born an immortal human named Alexander Corvinus.  He had three sons; one was a normal mortal human, but the twins, Markus and William, became something else.  Markus, bitten by a bat, became the original vampire.  William, bitten by a wolf, became the first Lycan.

It turns out that William got the raw end of the deal, because he became a completely insane brute driven solely by rage who could never turn back to human form, whereas Markus got eternal night life.

With that in mind, it’s now the year 1202.  William (Brian Steele, Doom) has become a menace, terrorizing and devouring the residents of every village he happens upon.  Markus (Tony Curran, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and a cadre of other vampires led by the iron-willed Viktor (Bill Nighy, Hot Fuzz) have gathered at William’s latest feasting ground to capture the rampaging Lycan and to burn the bodies of his victims before they, too, turn into beasts.  At length, William is captured, but some might consider his fate to be worse than death: imprisonment for all time in a sarcophagus that only Viktor will know how to find.  As one might imagine, Markus is less than thrilled about his brother’s sentence.

Flash forward to the present, circa 2003/6-ish.  It is literally moments after the ending of the previous film, and our heroine, Selene (Kate Beckinsale, Total Recall), is on the run, and brings us up to speed in what I’d call a spoiler of the first movie:

“For six centuries I was a loyal soldier to the vampire clan.  But I was betrayed.  The war was not as it had seemed.  In one night, the lies that had united our kind had been exposed.  Kraven, our second-in-command, had formed a secret alliance with Lucian, leader of the werewolf clan, to overthrow Viktor, our leader.  But Kraven's lust for power and domination had failed.  Viktor was not the savior I had been led to believe. He had betrayed us all.  Soon, the hunt will be on for his killer.  I have but one ally left: Michael, the human descendent of Corvinus.  Neither vampire nor lycan, but a hybrid.  It's only a matter of time before we're found.  My only hope now is to awaken Markus, our last remaining elder, and expose the truth before Kraven tries to murder him while he's still in hibernation.  Kraven knows he's no match for him awake.”

How well do you think that’s going to go, folks?  Especially since Selene didn’t see what the rest of us saw at the end of the original, namely the fact that Markus has already been awakened…

After the amazing success of the original movie, it took three years and double the money to make Underworld: Evolution.  Amazingly, every single character who repeats from one film to the next, however briefly, is played again by the same actor or actress.  You also get the same director, and two of the three original writers.  Sounds like a formula for yet another amazing success, right?

Well… sort of.  When I finished watching the first film – be it for the first time or the eighth time – the first word that came to mind was “awesome!”  After watching this follow-up – be it for the first time or the fifth – the first word that came to mind was “good!”  Still worth the time, but you do see the difference, I think.  What you don’t see is how this movie could possibly have cost twice as much as its predecessor, because frankly, the money doesn’t seem to be on the screen.  As for what you can look for on the screen, here are some high and lowlights.

Look for the same blue-tinted atmospherics that dominated the visuals of the first film.  That’s still the look du jour here, right up until the very last scene, save for some flashbacks that employ the same sepia tone look used before for the same purpose.

Speaking of atmosphere, listen (I don’t expect you to look and hear with your eyes, after all) for a major musical change.  Marco Beltrami has taken over the scoring duties, and while everything works, it’s one of the major inconsistencies you’ll notice, especially watching the first film and this one in the back-to-back manner made sensible by the fact that the plot picks up at literally the next moment.  The metal soundtrack interjections are completely gone (save for one quick moment wherein a character has a stereo going while he’s trying to have a threesome) until the end credits in favor of a more old school symphonic style.

Look for that old school feel to hit the screenplay, as well.  The first flick was ultramodern; this one is very much steeped in old world vampire and werewolf lore.  This only makes sense, of course, considering that at its very heart it’s dealing with this world’s original vampire and original werewolf.  I must say that while the catalyst for everything has its basis in a character believing what I’ve always considered the preposterous notion that to kill the origin creature is to kill the entire line of offspring, the screenplay goes on to dismiss that idea as folly.  It’s one of the rare times I’ve found a “cake and eat it” scenario to be satisfying.

Look for the modern slickness to slip back from more than just the feel of the storyline.  The closest one gets to seeing a city in Underworld: Evolution is as the backdrop behind a scene at a boat pier, and indeed, the boat docked at that pier is as modern as it will ever get.  Everything else is either in the country or in the ruins.

Look for modernity to express itself in another form, which is to say a much heavier apparent reliance on computer generated special effects.  Previously, it could only be noticed during the werewolf transformation scenes; here, it’s pervasive, doubling for sets, backdrops, and, I suspect, full creatures on some occasions.  When I said that it doesn’t look like there’s more money on the screen, this and a lack of location shots are a large part of the reason why.

Look for the action to feel like it’s slowed down compared to before.  While this theoretically may not be accurate, it sure feels like it is.  The action’s still good and fun to watch, but outside of a few specific moments, there’s not as much punch to it.  (William’s final duel, though, makes up for a lot.)

Look for the movie to still move very quickly, with the pace being driven more by story than action – despite the fact that again, the action’s really there.  Hit “pause” if you must take a bathroom break, folks, or you’ll miss a plot point.

Don’t look for many inconsistencies, because outside of the technical considerations already mentioned and one physical detail about a character that I’ll bring up in a moment, they just aren’t there.  The continuity cops were working overtime here to make sure that contradictions didn’t happen.  (And again, the return of actors to previous roles, however brief those roles may be, is a very nice touch.)

With that said, look for a major shark to be jumped when you meet the character played by Derek Jacobi (Gladiator).  Yes, everything that happens is entirely consistent with the lore presented both in this film and the last one, but it does have something of an “oh, come on” feel to it.  (I can’t help but feel that this might have felt less hokey if Kevin Grevioux had returned for this script.  I could be wrong, though.)

Look for Kate Beckinsale to once again make you not care about the movie’s flaws.  She dominates the screen whenever she’s on it, firmly cementing her place as a great action heroine.  As before, she kicks ass with the best of them, but in Underworld: Evolution, she’s also allowed more range with her acting.  While constantly intense in the first film, here she combines that intensity with something more.  Her character of Selene finally lets her guard down on occasion, and tenderness from her never feels forced.  Beckinsale shines during these moments just as she does with guns blazing, and indeed, her most outstanding scene may be when she is caught in a moment of agonizing grief.  There are no guns in this moment, only tears and raw emotion, and the performance is powerful indeed.

And yes, during one of the aforementioned moments of tenderness, look for proof that Selene really is wearing nothing under the skintight PVC (which only makes sense, since she has the leather corset on the outside).  Enjoy your brief glimpse of side boob, though, because the sex scene that follows has been carefully crafted to hide any and all naughty bits, which shouldn’t be a surprise given that the director is Kate Beckinsale’s husband, after all.

Speaking of the Beckinsale family, look for her real life daughter, Lily Mo Sheen, to make a brief flashback appearance as the young Selene.

Look for Scott Speedman to get a little more opportunity to act, as well, even if only for a little while as his character tries to deal with the fact that his future diet is going to consist of blood instead of “normal” food.  It’s just enough to make Selene’s falling for him seem all the more plausible.

Look for the character of Markus to play to two extremes that the first film’s vampires didn’t.  First, his preferred form isn’t the traditional man with fangs so much as it is what can only be called a “werebat” that seems to be his unique privilege of becoming as the original vampire.  This is jarring both for being inconsistent with everyone else and for the fact that while it really is Tony Curran under the makeup, the werebat looks nothing like the man, and so there’s a huge disconnect when Markus takes his more human form.  Speaking of that human form, Markus’ chosen look is that of the thin, shirtless “Led Zeppelin refugee” normally reserved for guys playing werewolves.

When all is said and done, look for the flaws of Underworld: Evolution to be outweighed by its good points.  Just look for the first film before you see this one, or it will not make a whole lot of sense, but once you’ve seen that, this one really is a sensible add-on for the “immediately after” follow up.

Bottom line, Underworld: Evolution is by no means perfect, but for fans of the vampire and werewolf genres who got hooked by the first movie, it remains a must.  If you liked what came before, there’s still plenty to like about what happens next, and while the results aren’t great, they’re still good, and good in a way that is still better than “good enough.”

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, January, 2012

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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