There’s a pronounced feeling that the makers of Underworld may have wanted to be the spiritual successor to Wesley Snipes’ Blade franchise as it contains many of the same traits. Uncompromising badass in a long leather coat? Check. Shiny, stylish, death dealing weapons? Affirmative? Violent world building that fuses centuries old myths with sexy, up to date tech? Yup, definitely scans.
And yet, despite the fact that director Les Wiseman can to the party armed with not only a vampire vs werewolf plot but the very photogenic sight of Kate Beckinsale vacuum packed into a leather jumpsuit, Underworld felt more like the sketchy, blockbuster stylings of the dopey, Resident Evil movies that gladly jettisoned common sense and decent characters in favor of inpenetrable lore and cool posing. Still, the fucking thing managed to drag an entire franchise out of its techno-gothic themes, starting with this first sequel that doubles down on the lore and the gore, but seemingly forgets to do anything else.
Set immediately after the events after the first movie, Death Dealer Selene, a soldier in the centuries old scrap between Vampires and Lycans (read: werewolves), is on the run with her vampire/werewolf hybrid lover, Michael, after killing the duplicitous Viktor, the head of Selene’s order. However, with events leaving two of the three elder vampires Deader than polyester slacks, it has become time to wake Markus, the last one left to lead the vamps in this, their time of dire need. However, due to some carelessly shed Lycan blood that has trickled down into his mouth while he hibernated, Markus awakes as another hybrid who exercises his exaggerated lust for bloodletting with some handy, mutilating wings he now sports.
As Markus aims his devastating new facelift at the two lovers, he has a insidious plan in place that reveals that everything we knew about the very origins of both species is false and it is in fact Markus and not Viktor who was the very first Vampire after being bitten by a bat and not only that but his twin brother William is the same Lycan after getting the same treatment from a wolf. The reason for this strange effect was that the brothers were fathered by an immortal named Alexander Corvinus who’s third brother remained human and fathered a line of human descendants that eventually included – you guessed it – Michael. However, trying everything together in an even tighter bow is the realisation that Selene’s family is the one that built the prison that holds William and were subsequently killed by Viktor to keep its location secret. Thus all Markus needs to do to get its location is drink Selena’s blood and get it from her genetic code. Or something…
If you read through the following synopsis and thought “Wow, that’s a lot of plot for a goofy flick about vampires and werewolves feuding like wrestlers”, I’d like to point out that that’s merely the backstory, which sneakily takes the form of a plot by dropping itself into the film periodically to give things the illusion of an actual story. What Underworld: Evolition really is is just an endless parade of action sequences that just happen to our leads when they’re not fleeing from police, vengeful vamps or a winged beastie that’s watched Jeeper Creepers one time too many. It all has a rather bewildering effect because the unrelenting (and slightly repetitive) action is obviously made for adolescents with shockingly bad attention spans, but then if this is true, it also raises the question why they’ve gone further to absurdly complicate the lore to the point of having the all clarity of a shit-smeared window in the monkey house at a zoo. The movie kind of needs a loose PhD or two just to remember all the history dumped on us in the first film and Evolution muddies it even further by proudly confessing that half of that was utter bull bullcrap in order to ret-con the sequel into life.
The actors – swimming against the current of the violent flood of exuberant action and an exposition overload that feels like an infinity snake eating it’s own tail – do what they can when they’re not being hurled around the set on wire, but the most amount of character Beckinsale manages to infuse into Selene is that she doesn’t wear undies under that impossibly tight catsuit before embarking on a hilariously unnecessary sex scene. Scott Speedman’s Michael fares even worse as he’s surprisingly prone to needing help despite the fact he’s supposed to be an ultimate, hybrid badass and even checks out for most of the third act as he actually dies for a bit.
One person who does put in superlative work, however, is whomever is in charge of casting as more renowned, British actors get sucked into Underworld’s gravitational pull presumably because they’ve got grandchildren; I mean it’s bad enough that Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen got roped into this shit, but now Derek Jacobi too?
And yet, for all my complaints and acidic comments, I have to concede that I honestly think that Underworld: Evolution is actually a superior sequel, but only if you let the tortured backstory wash over you as mere “stuff”; the action is vastly superior this time round with the Lycan’s being far more lithe this time round (and actually looking like wolves instead of UFC fighters spliced with shaved bears) and Tony Curran’s winged villain being a genuinely formidable force. An opening scene involving a flashback to 1202 that sees the elder vamps in their prime getting ambushed by a village full of Lycans not only gets Bill Nighy back, but at times hits the visual heights you’d actually want from a movie with a premise like this and a chase scene where Selene and Michael attempt to outrun a flying Markus in a truck is better than the entirety of the first movie.
It’s an amusingly case of dumber actually being better, but while Wiseman has obviously upped his action game by shoving more explicit gore and fantasy creatures into frame, a stupid movie with decent action is still a stupid movie and I’m willing to bet folding money you won’t give a single, solitary fuck about any of the characters at any point during the running time.
All the slick style in the world wasn’t enough to polish the turd that Underworld was, yet a clutch of cool monsters and some inventive splatter (vamp going into the blades of a helicopter? Yes please!) manages to erase a slight amount of the dreary suckage this franchise insists on labouring us with.
Better, but not enough to make me enthused for any further sequels.
Fangs, but no fangs.