Review: “Underworld Evolution”

The first “Underworld” was a poor man’s “Blade”, a deadly serious low-moderate budget vampire vs. werewolves movie with a leather bodysuit clad vamp heroine out to stop a conspiracy amongst her own kind. It was dark, near monochrome in look, very heavy on the exposition, and chock full of gun fights between not-so-convincing creatures of the night in various dark and rainy places.

Still, like the first “Blade”, there was an admirable attempt at trying to come across as something more than a B-movie – unlike most films of the type which are badly underwritten, these films were if anything overwritten – trying to cram in too much extraneous material into their runtime and ultimately being too caught up in their own lore for its audience to engage with.

Consequently the sequel ‘Evolution’ comes across as a poor man’s “Blade 2”, a film which dumps the first movie’s steep mythology in favour of bigger effects, flashier action, a bit more camp and a different but simpler take on the lore the first film had built up. Yet whereas “Blade 2” managed to come out decently thanks to the inventive and intriguing direction of Guillermo Del Toro, ‘Evolution’ has no such luck resulting in a lacklustre sequel that even haters of the first film will be hard pressed to call anything but equal to or worse in quality.

Whilst simpler in its basic plot, ‘Evolution’ remains hopelessly convoluted – especially in its early scenes. In order to make it simpler for audiences to get into, much of the early scenes are dedicated to flashbacking to the first film, and then destroying any and all lingering elements from said movie. The destruction comes in the form of Marcus, a winged vampire creature with a werewolf twin brother whom he’s desperate to find and goes about destroying everyone and everything in his path to get to him.

Scribe Danny McBride makes some admirable attempts to link the two film’s stories and elements together, expanding on little references made in the first film, bringing back the likes of Victor, Amelia and Kraven for albeit brief cameos, and even throwing in a twist regarding one of the supporting character’s true heritage. Yet despite the links (which render the film incomprehensible to all but those who’ve seen the first film recently and at least twice), he forgets to develop much of a main plot for this film, let alone characters. The result is cardboard cut-out goodies and baddies going through the motions as they dive off tall structures before whipping out weapons and going gangbusters.

Even the first film at least tried to develop something between the characters however minor – a surrogate father-daughter bond between Selene and Victor, or a inept romance between Selene and Michael. No such development occurs in this, both Beckinsale and Speedman have their parts reduced to characters spewing out plot notes when not indulging in fisticuffs or tastefully shot sex.

The great Bill Nighy returns briefly for a cameo to obviously fulfil a contractual obligation, Tony Curran adds nothing to the action as the ubiquitous villains, and what in the hell an awesome talent like Derek Jacobi is doing in such schill as this is a mystery that can only be answered by three little words – big, fat paycheck. Hell even the first film had a small role with “Prison Break” hottie Wentworth Miller, none of the supporting roles here have any such great talent at work.

The film obviously has a bigger budget which allows for more ass-kicking, lots more explosions, and a move of the action away from the rainy streets of its metropolis setting and out into the snow-bound mountains and forests of what looks like a Gothic interpretation of Canada. Yet all it has done is succeeded in making the movie louder and dumber, even the first film for all its bluster at least came up with one or two innovations (such as the discussions of anti-werewolf and anti-vampire weaponry). Beckinsale still looks sizzling in her skin tight catsuit, but this time she’s more on the run than packing heat, and in the crispy cold looks to be freezing her ass off.

Despite the title, the film is essentially a de-evolution from the first. It trades in the first film’s few little guilty pleasures (the unyielding seriousness, Bill Nighy’s over the topness, etc.) in favour of bigger B-movie thrills with more skin, more of a wink at the audience and bigger explosions. Some may actually click more to this than first as its more upfront about itself being a cheese-fest, but at least the first seemed like it was trying. Judging by this, neanderthals were in charge behind the cameras.