Underworld: Evolution (2006)

underworld-evolution-movie-kate-beckinsale-original-poster-print

“My God. Brother, what have you done?”

Directed by Len Wiseman
Starring Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Derek Jacobi and Tony Curran

After the events of Underworld, Selene (Beckinsale) and Michael (Speedman) go into hiding in the wilds of Caucasistan*, hunted not by the now-defunct vampire establishment but by the last elder, Markus Corvinus (Curran), first vampire, winged hybrid, and wearer of some seriously samurai loon pants.

Okay, actually we start with history, specifically the start of the war between the Lycans and the Deathdealers, and Markus’ subjugation to the hired help, Viktor (Bill Nighy) and Amelia (Zita Görög). Not that that matters much; those two are dead, to begin with. What does matter is that Markus’ twin brother William, first Lycan and uncontrollable juggernaut of destruction, is imprisoned by Viktor for all time.

In the present, Selene has something Markus wants, but since he’s operating an eat first, ask questions by probing the molecular memory of their blood policy, she’s reluctant to help. There’s a bit of a barney and some slow-mo art sex, then she and Michael set off on a sort of scavenger hunt to unlock the secret of her past.

They fall in with commandos working for the twins’ father, Alexander (Jacobi), who is immortal but otherwise powerless, having never been bitten by anything. He has been keeping the two breeds secret from the world for centuries, and ultimately agrees to give Selene the power to confront his sons.

What’s wrong with it?

“That’s odd.”
“What?”
“I don’t remember this gate being here before.”
‘Before’ in this instance has just been established as three hundred years ago, and that’s the problem with Underworld: Evolution in a nutshell. It’s based on eight hundred years of history, but because the characters are immortal and changeless it has no sense of scale or depth; it might as well all have happened in the space of a few months. In particular, death lacks the sting it ought to have for those who barely know it.

The film also generates no involvement with the characters, nor provides much of a sense of their past, so that the revelations of their hidden histories are… pretty meh. That sort of thing  is all well and good in Lovecraftian horror, but less so in crypto-superheroic action.

The fight scenes are gory, but lack impact. Body parts come free easily to show the vast strength of the fighters, but this just makes it look as if they are fighting dummies.

The film can’t seem to decide if vampires need to breathe, but when they do their breath fogs dramatically in cold air, confirming that they have body heat.

There is a lot of gratuitous slow motion.

What’s right with it?

In a word – or two – Derek Jacobi. His scenes don’t mean anything more than anyone else’s, but he manages to sell us that they do.

There are some aspects of the mythology that aren’t that bad. I particularly like the idea that Markus has put it about that killing him kills all vampires as a means to stop Viktor killing him.

How bad is it really?

I guess what I’m saying is that the problem is that the film lacks any sense of substance, basically fading into a haze of set pieces occasionally punctuated by a respected British thespian.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Probably something with Derek Jacobi, before his entire operation gets pulled apart like paper. I so wanted him to do something badass, but he never does.

What’s up with…?

  • Michael splashing paint on the windows to block out the sun in slow motion and accompanied by terribly portentous music, like you’d normally expect from Zhang Xiyi riding hell for leather to be just too late for a fatal appointment?
  • Viktor’s cover-up schedule? He massacres Selene’s family because they know where William is imprisoned, but the timings make it clear that he did so almost twenty years after the work was finished.
  • Corvinus’ commandos and their lax trigger discipline?
  • The flashback to things that happened earlier in the film? I really hate it when films do this, as it feels like an assumption that I can’t remember what’s going on.
  • The helicopter with its engine that keeps running even after it has crashed and the rotors have half sheared off, just so a villain can be diced in the remaining blades?

Ratings

Production values – There is no significant advance on the previous film. Markus’ winged form is kind of cool, but his use of the wings as stabbing and grabbing weapons of near limitless reach gets a little silly. The squishiness of the massive blows also harms rather than helps the sense of power. 16
Dialogue and performances – There is barely a line that isn’t crap, but at least they are delivered with conviction. 11
Plot and execution – The film is a mess of set-pieces, linked by a mix of chance and contrivance. 16
Randomness – People’s motivations are hard to grasp. Lucian, leader of the Lycan liberation, gives away Lycans to be chained guard dogs in return for weapons and info.  Alexander is pro-human, but won’t directly act against his sons. Selene… I actually don’t know what her deal is, I really don’t. 12
Waste of potential – It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a sequel to Underworld7

Overall 62%

* Aesthetically one of the distant, Asiatic parts of the former Soviet Union, ethnically white Hollywood; a friendly place where the cops throw down on you for having a stomach ache.

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