This sequel to UNDERWORLD rehashes much of what came before while abandoning the most interesting elements of its progenitor. There is lots of shooting, lots of fighting, lots of running around — but precious little reason is given to care about any of this. The result is flashy, loud, and almost devoid of genuine thrills — a movie that borrows from THE MATRIX and THE TERMINATOR, while adding almost nothing new.
The first UNDERWORLD movie took a similar tack for most of its length but finally generated a little interest toward the end, when the script finally got around to filling in the necessary back story and revealing what the plot was really about. The ending left the way paved for a sequel, with vampire elder Marcus (the original vampire) about to reawaken after slumbering for centuries.
After a brief prologue (a battle centuries ago, that fills in more exposition about the long conflict between vampire and werewolf), the sequel picks up almost literally minutes after the events of UNDERWORLD, with vampire Selene (Beckinsale) and vampire-werewolf hybrid Michael Corvin (Speedman) on the run from Selene’s vampire coven after combining their strength to destroy the duplicitous coven leader Viktor (Bill Nighy). With the momentum from the previous film in place, the sequel seems to be jumping out of the starting gate at full speed, but it almost immediately throws a shoe: Selene thinks her only hope to avoid being hunted down by her former allies is to get to Marcus. Marcus reawakens and kills the vampire coven, short circuiting that storyline before it can go anywhere. He then sets off in pursuit of Selene, who runs away from him, even though she was seeking him out, only moments before.
From that point on, there is plenty of breathless running around, but to what end is not made clear for much of the running time. Eventually we learn that Marcus (who was the first vampire) wants to release his twin brother (who was the first werewolf) from his centuries-long imprisonment. Since the vampire-werewolf war has been going on for centuries, one more werewolf hardly seems enough to make any difference, so the script makes some stab at portraying Marcus’ twin as an uber-wolf that must be stopped at all costs. Marcus also gives a standard-issue villainous monologue, in which he claims he will unite the two bloodlines. How he will do this, and why he needs is brother, is never explained. Neither idea is conveyed with any conviction; Marcus’ ill-defined plan is a plot device to give our heroes a villain to combat.
Along the way, Derek Jacobi lends the proceedings a little dignity by showing up from time to time as a mysterious figure whose minions clean up each new mess that results from the vampire-werewolf conflict. In a not-too-surprising revelation, he turns out to be the immortal Corvinius, the father of the twins who became the first werewolf and the first vampire. Unfortunately for the film, he gets killed off, but he hangs on long enough to give his blood to Selene, which is supposed to make her even more powerful than before so that she and Mike can confront and defeat the twins in the climactic battle.
The sense of desperation hanging over the screenplay becomes all too obvious at this point. It’s not enough that the four warriors are immortals; each of them, in one way or another, is supposed to be a super-duper-charged uber-immortal more powerful than any other. This is supposed to engender a dramatic sense that the stakes have been raised for a truly momentous final battle, but when the action comes, it’s pretty much the same bang-bang-punch-jump-kick stuff we’ve been seeing throughout both movies.
This is hardly helped by the weak exposition, which has yet to make clear the relative vulnerabilities of the opponents: silver bullets or ultra-violet rounds may help dispatch lycans and vamps, but if those aren’t available, all it takes is a sufficient amount of bloodshed. If this vagueness were not enough, the script at some times seems downright contradictory. Michael, being a hybrid, is supposed to be a unique creature, stronger than either vampire or werewolf, yet after he is unable to defeat Marcus during an early skirmish, he asks Selene if Marcus is a hybrid, and she answers yes. A hybrid of what is never explained, as he displays no lycan tendencies. (Marcus is able to transform himself into a large devil-bat shape — something no other vampire seems able to do — but that hardly explains his “hybrid” status.)
The over-the-top action occasionally rises to an exciting level, as when Marcus literally pulls a helicopter from the sky and shortly thereafter tosses Selene at it: she slides to within inches of its still spinning blades, which trim the ends of her hair before she stop herself from going any farther. But mostly, the combination of pyrotechnics, stunts, and computer-generated imagery rises only to the level of a modestly entertaining videogame.
On the plus side, the filmmakers seem to realize that they shortchanged the Selene-Michael romance in the first film; unfortunately, their solution is to shoe-horn in one of those gauzy nude love scenes that look like some kind of fragrance commercial, after which the two characters resume their pursuit as if nothing had happened.
This cavalier attitude toward the drama is what ultimately sinks UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, as it nearly sank the first UNDERWORLD. At least the previous film ultimately pushed a few simple ideas about class warfare and racism (with the vampire overlords refusing to mix with their bestial brethren the werewolves), which helped fuel the motivations of the characters and gave a sense that there was something at stake that a human audience could relate to. None of that is present in the sequel, whose plot works as just a mechanical excuse to stage more action scenes. But no matter how much bullets-and-bloodshed sprays across the screen, it doesn’t amount to a thing if the film fails to make us care.
Copyright 2006 Steve Biodrowski