In most cases, I’ll go back and re-watch the previous film when tackling a sequel. In the case of Underworld Evolution, I contented myself, on the Life-Is-Too-Short principle, with merely looking over my review of Underworld.
Doing so mostly reminded me that I’m still awaiting the return of werewolves in trousers — like Lon Chaney Jr. in that convict suit he always had the presence of mind to mystifyingly slip into somewhere between transformation and mayhem, or Henry Hull, who retained sufficient human mental agility (not to mention dress sense) to make himself less conspicuous with a scarf and a natty cap. These boys — and to a lesser extent, Oliver Reed and Matt Willis — are my idea of werewolves.
This probably sounds flip and curmudgeonly, but I think it’s why these names are still invoked in horror-movie circles when the topic of lycanthropy comes up — and why those of Scott Speedman and Hugh Jackman are not. The Chaneys and the Hulls actually played werewolves; their modern counterparts play guys who turn into acrobatic, computer generated — and frankly, cartoonish — versions of the Big Bad Wolf. The new generation of actors themselves bring nothing to the roles post-transformation. The modern werewolf is purely an effect — and one that’s wearing pretty thin; whatever power it had to shock is long gone. With no personality for these creatures to fall back on, there’s precious little left beyond random fighting and killing.
And so it is with Underworld Evolution, where the werewolves aren’t scary and the vampires aren’t much better. The film brings back most of the characters from Underworld, though frequently in very marginalized roles (Bill Nighy might almost as well have stayed at home). That seems to be because the sequel is determined to construct yet another almost impossibly convoluted story line that, like its predecessor, manages the not inconsiderable feat of being at once complicated and mind-numbingly boring.
Not surprisingly, this involves going back in time and setting up a brand new story line that somehow got overlooked in the original. Now, it seems that old Viktor (Bill Nighy) double-crossed a previously unmentioned vampire buddy named Marcus (Tony Curran, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and had Marcus’ out-of-control werewolf brother, William (stunt performer Brian Steele), locked away for all time in a special rig that looks like an iron maiden inside a hidden vault in an undisclosed location. Turns out, you see, that Marcus is the real, original, one-and-only genuine vampire, and that he sold Viktor on the idea that if anything happens to him, every vampire in his lineage will also shuffle off to his or her immortal coil.
But you can’t fool the vampire and werewolf children of the evolution. So Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman) aren’t buying into this propaganda and set out to destroy the virulently anti-social Marcus in order to prevent him from unleashing his hirsute sibling. In other words, like the original, Evolution is nothing more than a springboard for ever-more-elaborate fight scenes and effects work.
Strangely, our heroes’ quest takes them on a visit to yet another of those heretofore unmentioned characters, Tanis (Steven Mackintosh, The Jacket), who is almost interchangeable with Meatloaf’s character in Uwe Boll’s disappearing act of a movie, BloodRayne, which Underworld Evolution resembles more than it would like (right down to its gratuitous sex scene). Ironically, this story line is probably the best thing in the movie, since Mackintosh seems to be the only actor in the whole thing who realizes this is camp trash.
To further complicate matters, there’s poor Derek Jacobi dragging himself and his knighthood into the melange (just like Sir Ben Kingsley in BloodRayne) as some kind of hi-tech Flying Dutchman of undead-dom, who cruises the world in a cargo ship outfitted with a vaguely gothic throne room — along with banks of computers, helicopters and his personal anti-vampire SWAT team. Since he can’t bring himself to off his sons, Marcus and William, the point of his mission is even more vague than the rest of the film.
Oh well, if nothing else, Underworld Evolution is funnier than Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World. Rated R for pervasive strong violence and gore, some sexuality/nudity and language.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke