Sunday, October 14, 2012

Underworld: Evolution

The original Underworld film was a cool little surprise. I was expecting a The Matrix rip-off featuring vampires and werewolves instead of humans and machines. What we got was much more than that. It had a very cool, dark moodiness to it and it introduced a sweet ass connection between the vamps and werewolves (Lycans) that I really ate up. Plus it featured some cool action, the delicious British bombshell Kate Beckinsale in tight vinyl and some neat little ideas (the UV bullets, the hybrid theory and twists on the genre).

Over 2 years later comes the inevitable sequel (the first was left open with a cool cliffhanger), Underworld: Evolution, and while it expands the world created in the first film it’s not quite the super awesome sequel I was hoping for.
Picking up right where the original left off, Selene (Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman) are on the run from the vampires that betrayed her, and she in turn betrayed right back by killing the current faction leader Viktor (Bill Nighy). Since the Lycan forces are in total disarray after the death of their leader, Lucian (Michael Sheen), the only thing that they aren't prepared to handle is the newly resurrected vampire major domo Marcus (Tony Curran), who is a vampire/Lycan hybrid like Michael, but instead of being a combo of both races he has been given the ability to evolve into a superpowered bat-like creature. They also encounter several key players in the war and uncover more conspiracies and hidden secrets than they were prepared for.

First off, this film features a hell of a lot more action than the first film. We get fist fights galore, aerial acrobatics, car chases, gun battles and epic battle scenes and so forth. Kate Beckinsale, who was a dancer, continues to show off her aptitude for action and every time she beat on someone or something I totally believed that she could actually do that (except for the jumping 30 feet up in the air thing). The fighting style that Michael uses, which relies solely on the use of his claws, is pretty original and looks damn cool when in action. Also, the opening prologue action scene that takes place in the past and sets up the movie's storyline is awesome as well.
Next I have to compliment the amount of detail that's been added into the story. Big things like the origins of the vampires and Lycans to little things, like where the UV bullets came from is given an explanation. It went above and beyond creating a cool world for the films to take place in, and I hope there is a third film that will help to expand the Underworld universe even further. Plus characters that were given relatively little screentime in the first film (Amelia in particular) are given a chance to shine here and I loved every second of it.

The acting is a lot better here as well. Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman are given a lot more do to this time around. Instead of being placed into a forced relationship like the first film, we actually see just how much their characters actually do care for each other (and seeing that love scene was infuriating since Speedman's arm got in the way of Kate's yummy bits). Speedman's character gets some of the best scenes of the bunch, like when he wants to know if he's still able to eat normal food now that he's a vamp/wolf combo. It's a scene that wasn't really necessary to the story, but it was more than welcome since it helps to get us into his character more than anything in the original did.
Everything has improved due to the bigger budget. The sets are great, the action is faster and more violent, the gore quotient has been upped significantly (the first film was nearly bloodless), the FX are flashier and look fantastic, the make-up looks better than ever (and the new four legged werewolf looks amazing). There are some quality kills here as well, from werewolves getting their jaws ripped off to a lot of nastiness involving a rotating helicopter blade. Bloody loveliness.

The script and direction by Len Wiseman has improved too. Wiseman seems more confident in his own abilities and the direction he's taking the franchise. I not only look forward to the (hopefully) third film, but what he does when the franchise ends. He's a great action director and he's already made leaps and bounds on how to tell a story. He's moving up my fave directors list.
Although I truly enjoyed this film, there are some peeves that I must address. Namely the hokey and predictable ending. We witness a true tragedy, and the effect it has on a particular character makes them do things they normally wouldn't do. Then, just like we feared, things turn out OK for no reason at all (the explanation given was too lame) and eyes roll due to it. It's a cop out that would have been great if left untouched, but I guess either the studio or Wiseman wouldn't have it and we get stuck with a silly twist. My other problem is that, while I think Tony Curran is a great actor, he just didn't seem right for the role of Marcus. He's supposed to be the origin of the vampire race and when he's in that bat-mode he looks awesome, but when he's not in make-up he just doesn't seem to vibe and it brings the movie down a notch. Bill Nighy's Viktor may have been an older character, but he had charisma and neat little ticks that brought his character to life. Curran's Marcus just doesn't cut it.

In the end we have a nicely entertaining film, but still has a few glitches that doesn't exactly make it a classic. This franchise, if it continues, is going to be amazing as long as it doesn't cop out during the finale again.

3.5 out of 5

*written 1/21/06

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