Underworld: Evolution (2006)

Starring Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Sir Derek Jacobi, Bill Nighy

Directed by Len Wiseman

The first piece of advice I’d give anyone planning to see Underworld: Evolution would be this: Watch Underworld again first. Evolution begins almost exactly where its predecessor ends, so you’re thrown right into the story, and re-visiting it beforehand is much easier than trying to think back while the newer movie is playing out on the big screen. Granted, there are some pertinent flashbacks, but just take my word and save yourself the trouble of sorting it all out.

Now, for the good stuff … After a brief bit of vampire/lycan history, Evolution begins with Selene (Kate Beckinsale, once more resplendent in latex and leather) and Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman) on the run. They are soon to find out that Selene’s betrayal of her coven is not their biggest problem. Marcus, the third elder of the vampire clans, has awakened. The circumstances of the awakening have changed him considerably, and he’s hell-bent on releasing William, his captive twin brother and the very first lycan. (This is one of those parts where a refresher course on the first movie will help smooth your experience.)

To go into too much more detail regarding the story would be to give too much away, but suffice to say that Marcus’ search involves both Michael and Selene and their mad race to stop him before he reaches his goal and unleashes destruction on the world.

With regard to the first movie, I enjoyed it as a pleasantly distracting piece of film and little more. Vampires, werewolves, Kate Beckinsale in tight clothing, and a shirtless Scott Speedman were enough to make it an amusing time killer. It was with this mentality that I planned on seeing Evolution, so I was quite surprised to find myself with both a deeper appreciation for the first film and a definite sense of enjoyment for the tale as a whole. Originally, Underworld was pitched as “Romeo & Juliet with vampires and werewolves,” and that element was very clear in the first installment (I’m almost loath to refer to them as separate movies, as Evolution is really just a continuance of the first). Here in Evolution director Len Wiseman and screenwriter Danny McBride take us further away from that base and turn the tale more to the history of the two species and an age-old family bond.

Beckinsale skillfully manages to subtly imbue Selene with a little more humanity and warmth than we saw in her last time. Speedman is utterly believable once again as a sort of Everyman suddenly thrust into a world he doesn’t really understand and struggling to come to terms with the change. I would love for someone to give him a part that stretches his wings more – just to see if he can hack it. But even if, as I fear, he may only be capable of the Everyman role, he still looks damn good shirtless. Tony Curran almost steals the show as the single-minded elder Marcus, he of the piercing blue eyes. In fact, overall the acting is really wonderful, and the writing is, honestly, even better than the first half although there were some instances in which the math didn’t quite add up. But the story itself is really so gripping that I didn’t think about it at the time. (Afterwards though … Is it 14 centuries or 800 years? If anyone knows for sure, I’d sure be glad to hear it.) The werewolf effects, though decent in both movies, seemed both more realistic and more … jerky … than they were in the first entry. Not jerky as in badly done, but as in a not-so-fluid transition. It seemed the change was more painful in Evolution, at least to me. The Marcus effects were fantastic with his change both fluid and organic.

My only problems with the film are these: One, the lighting was so dark that at many times it wasn’t entirely clear WHAT was going on, especially in the fight scenes. And two, there is one question I left with that even re-watching the first film does not explain, and it still bothers me. In Underworld Viktor makes it clear that Marcus was about to be awakened to rule over the two vampire covens … but the Marcus in this film cares nothing for leadership or the covens. If anyone can explain the reasoning there, it’s another thing I’d be glad to understand.

Nonetheless, aside from the lingering questions and the too dark lighting, I was very impressed. Underworld: Evolution managed to take a purely popcorn movie and elevate it to a nearly epic tale of love and struggle and triumph. There’s action, drama, romance (Wiseman manages to turn a scene in an abandoned warehouse where Michael hurriedly tries to protect Selene from the sun and then tend to her wounds into an achingly romantic slice of the movie), and enough darkness, blood, and vampire/werewolf lore for all us horror fans. I can’t wait to see it again. And I recommend it to everyone else.

Just make sure you’ve seen Underworld first!

4 out of 5

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