Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Strong Violence and Gore, some Sexuality/Nudity and Language
Directed by: Len Wiseman
Written by: Danny McBride
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Derek Jacobi, Steven Mackintosh, Shane Brolly & Bill Nighy
Because 2003’s UNDERWORLD banked at the box office (doubling its budget domestically and cracking 100 million worldwide), Screen Gems was eager to pump out a sequel. Series creators Len Wiseman and Danny McBride were up to the task, because they originally mapped out UNDERWORLD as a trilogy (with different stories to be told at different times). Little details from the first film make big returns in this second installment. While it serves as a decent enough follow-up to that first entertaining vampires vs. werewolves flick, UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION falls into the typical sequel pitfall of not living up to its predecessor.
To properly set up this sequel, I’ll have to spoil 2003’s UNDERWORLD. So, you have been warned. After slicing the villainous vampire Viktor’s head in half and turning Michael (Scott Speedman) into a hybrid species of vampire/lycan, former death-dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is running from both monster clans. Selene soon discovers that original immortal Markus (Tony Curran) has a long-standing score to settle with her and his reasoning extends far beyond her murdering an elder. There’s a secret key and an ancient prophecy coming to light, all while Selene and Michael struggle to stay alive.
EVOLUTION hits the ground running as it introduces potentially interesting new plotlines. Even though he was bland in the first movie and remains just as bland here, Scott Speedman’s Michael receives a brief subplot about adapting to his new monstrous cravings. Meanwhile, there’s the obvious bit about Selene being a fugitive from humans, vampires, and werewolves (though that latter detail opens up a plot hole about whether the lycan clan was fully supportive of Lucian’s master plan in UNDERWORLD). Finally, there’s Markus and his deadly intent to find a hidden secret in Selene’s blood. All of these storylines sound like they belong in an awesome sequel, so what the hell happened?
While EVOLUTION doesn’t exactly drop the ball, it certainly takes its sweet time to let things come to light. For the first half, we’re sporadically shown scenes of an elderly “cleaner” (Derek Jacobi) wiping evidence of vampire and werewolf existence from the human eye. These bits don’t come into play until a character points out this character’s existence far later in the film. When Jacobi’s mysterious man’s identity is revealed, he merely delivers a ton of tedious exposition and becomes a walking plot device (much like Speedman’s Michael in the first film). This character’s inclusion seems arbitrary and boring in the grand scheme of a vampire and a hybrid battling the most powerful vampire in existence. Michael’s struggle with being a new monster only lasts for a single scene too, when it could have been a far more interesting subplot.
Kate Beckinsale slips back into her form-fitting latex catsuit with ease and plays Selene about as well as she did the first time around. This vampire is a conflicted do-gooder who’s now on a quest to make up for her past wrongs and save the world from extinction. As the villainous Markus, Tony Curran is intimidating enough. He doesn’t pack the scenery-chewing presence of Bill Nighy’s Viktor (who shows up for a brief prologue), but remains an interesting baddie nonetheless. Markus is benefited by a bat-like appearance at points and interesting weapons of death (his razor-sharp wings).
As far as EVOLUTION’s action goes, this film is a downgrade from the original in many ways. There are cool bits of Selene taking out vicious lycans and a few fun fights with Markus. However, EVOLUTION seems too reliant on cheesy-looking CGI. The corny-looking effects invade otherwise neat action sequences. A prime example of this is when Markus wipes out an entire room of vampires during his introduction, with low-grade wings impaling and decapitating folks in Syfy-level cheesiness. However, it’s worth noting that Selene’s final confrontation against Markus has one hell of a bloody conclusion.
EVOLUTION is the lowest point of the first three UNDERWORLD films and ends on another obvious cliffhanger for a sequel (that didn’t arrive until 2012). EVOLUTION isn’t bad, but it’s certainly a downgrade from the period piece creativity of its later prequel and the MATRIX-inspired entertainment of the first film. There are loads of interesting plot points that are passed over for the sake of feeding the viewer more exposition and lore about this world/conflict. Some of it is welcome, but a lot of it feels unnecessary. UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION has enough positive qualities to warrant a recommendation for fans of the first film (and the prequel), but expect to be underwhelmed.