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Buy your copy from Amazon.com Underworld: Evolution (2006) starstarno starno starno star Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy, Tony Curran, Derek Jacobi
Director: Len Wiseman
Rating: R
Category: Action

Director Len Wiseman’s 2003 surprise hit, “Underworld,” isn’t the first film to be completely undermined by a follow-up sequel, but it’s certainly among the worst off in an ongoing trend. The original was a stylish genre flick that brought new life to the monster movie, specifically vampires and werewolves, by placing the characters in a modern day war fueled by hi-tech weaponry and a centuries-old grudge. This has, of course, been done before, but “Underworld” did it best, thanks mostly to star Kate Beckinsale’s enthusiasm in playing the hackneyed female hero role. “Underworld: Evolution,” unfortunately, attempts to outshine the cult appeal of the first film, and in doing so, sacrifices the integrity of the myths and legends that the creators had so carefully fashioned.

“Evolution” takes place only hours after the original, and so the first five minutes is comprised of mostly just flashbacks. The war between the Death Dealers (vampires) and lycans (werewolves) is still very much in effect, but now Selena (Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman) are being hunted for the murder of their race’s lord, Viktor (Bill Nighy, who returns in a brief flashback). Because the Strongest Vampire Who Ever Lived is now dead, and because the first rule of sequels is to up the ante, a new villain is conceived: Marcus (Tony Curran), the true son of Alexander Corvinus (Derek Jacobi).

Marcus was briefly mentioned in the first film, but only as the second heir to the vampire kingdom. He is, in fact, the very first vampire (bitten by a bat when he was a kid), while his twin brother William was the first lycan (you guessed it, bitten by a wolf as a kid). When Marcus awakens from his deep sleep to discover his kingdom at the brink of civil war, he sets off to release his brother from a 500-year imprisonment with plans to form a new race of vampire hybrids in his likeness. Action and mayhem ensues, but not with the sort of results you’d imagine.

“Evolution” comes off more enjoyable as a comedy than a genre-specific action film, namely because the action sequences are too far-fetched, even by fantasy standards. Vampires are riddled with bullets, only to get back up and continue fighting, while the werewolves are taken down almost too easily. Which begs to ask the question, if those UV bullets from the last film are supposed to take down any vampire, why aren’t they working now? And if they do work, why isn’t Selena using them? Throughout the entire 106-minute runtime of the film, the only time UV bullets could be spotted was in storage. Was there some sort of recall that the audience doesn’t know about? Please explain.

Aside from that, the acting is absolutely horrendous. Speedman sleepwalks through the sequel like a hungry actor who’s more concerned where his next paycheck is coming from, while even Beckinsale looks a bit concerned with the direction her husband (Wiseman) is taking the second time around. The only laudable acting turn, in fact, is by Sir Derek Jacobi, a veteran who clearly doesn’t belong in this film by his superior performance alone. Still, it’s comforting to see that the special effects haven’t suffered at all, and they look better than ever, with the exception of the giant Muppet werewolf in the final battle sequence. In trying to distinguish William from all of the other lycans, Wiseman’s SFX team has created an enormous werewolf costume that seems almost too big for its own good. Ultimately, this isn’t going to affect the hardcore fan’s decision, nor will most of the other problems littered throughout the film. If that’s not enough evidence towards the planning of a third movie, then you need only look to the open-ended conclusion for further proof. “Underworld: Unloaded” anyone?

DVD Features:
The single-disc DVD release of "Underworld: Evolution" includes six production featurettes ranging from special effects and creature design, to stunts and music. A music video for Atreyu's "Her Portrait in Black."

~Jason Zingale

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