Underworld: Evolution


Reviewed by: Chris

Underworld: Evolution is a film for fans of the genre. If you like it, prepare for two hours of undiluted pleasure or, if not, then I suppose all the epithets along the lines of "boring, derivative, banal, underwhelming tosh" are fully justified.

If you are put off by the description that follows, maybe this film is not for you and I've done my job. If you enjoyed the first in the series, or (as one of the uninitiated) these tantalising glimpses of high-tech Goth makes it appeal, then read on, for the more you know about the mythology the better, since the film itself wastes little time explaining itself.

Underworld is a dark domain where age-old enmity between Vampires and Lycans (werewolves) is played out with terrifying fury. Normal people are fairly peripheral to the plot, since Vampires have emergency blood supplies, negating the need to attack humans. Both sides are armed, not only with traditional bloodsucking and flesh-tearing fang capacity, but with all the gadgetry of customised guns and other scientific paraphernalia needed to track and kill each other. Here is no Disneyfied world of a timid picture book Dracula hidden in a battered old coffin. These guys have state-of-the-art locking crypts, massive stone fortresses and conduct raids with military precision. The film unashamedly boasts an adults-only certificate and has consummate amounts of nastiness, gore, head ripping and scary battles, as well as realistic dollops of sex.

Apart from the actual mechanics, such as reaction to sunlight and ways of causing death, the Vampires of Underworld have little in common with their namesake in literature - a fascinating creature that slowly saps its victim of strength. Instead, several other fables are interwoven, perhaps the most obvious being a Romeo And Juliet love affair between the beautiful Vampire heroine Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and the Lycan hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman). There is also a Beauty And The Beast charm, since both display very human qualities at times, such as a tenderness towards each other and the desire to minimise suffering. We long for them to rise above the terrible disease that pumps through their veins.

There is a "mad scientist" underlay to the plot, with the development of specialised weaponry and the search for the pure strain, giving rise to Matrix-like battles and, last but not least, Underworld borrows from X-Men the idea of mutations and, stylistically, from more polished films of a not dissimilar ilk, such The Crow, or Blade.

The name Selene means the moon goddess, who was known for her countless love affairs and purity. Her sister was Eos, the dawn. Michael is a Hebrew word meaning "he who is like God". But we're hardly interested in the psychology of plot structure and name conundrums at this point. The thrill comes from watching Beckinsale in a leather catsuit kick ass all the way to the nemesis, or seeing the potentially very scary (and equally photogenic) Speedman show his gentle side, as he gets her kit off, or actors of the calibre of Derek Jacobi and Bill Nighy play really cruel, vicious, malevolent creatures that haven't been toned down for the under-18s, or the inventive and bloody battles in fabulously Gothic settings.

There are lashings of blood every few seconds and tasteful, delicate sex to remind us we're watching something artistic and not downright depraved (even if we are). If anything, Underworld: Evolution delivers in spades what the first film only hinted at, yet keeping some of the best elements (Beckinsale's acrobatics, car chases and stunning effects) that set the original tone.

The plot is far from simplistic, so here's a reminder of what you need to absorb in the first few minutes in case you miss it, or forget to take notes: Vampire heroine Selene, after dedicating most of her life to exterminate Lycans, whom she believes slaughtered her family when she was a child, discovers she has been betrayed by her own kind. She teams up with Michael, a Vampire/Lycan hybrid (a human who has become infected with both viral strains). While on the run with her, Michael has to struggle to accept and understand his powers and longs to end the war between Lycans and Vampires.

Other important characters include: Viktor (Nighy), a haughty, ostentatious Vampire overlord with a very dark side (Selene awoke him prematurely from a long sleep to tell him of a Lycan offensive). Marcus, the last surviving Vampire elder, a medieval warlord, mutated by the bite of a bat and awoken by the blood of a Lycan scientist, compelled to raise Vampire warriors, such as Viktor, to control the Lycan horde, has become one of a terrifying new breed. William, brother of Marcus, mutated into a werewolf from a wolf bite and thence populated the region with the violent Lycan beasts. Alexander Corvinus (Jacobi) is the first immortal, the genetic father of both Lycan and Vampire. The pestilence of the Great Plague of Europe had mutated within him to become the Mother Virus, which eventually became two separate diseases (Vampire and Lycan), as it was passed on to his sons Marcus and William.

The film traces the evolution of these characters, but you do need to concentrate to get the significance of the heavy battles that are heaped one upon the other. The real question is, what will happen to Selene and Michael? The ending packs an emotional punch and paves the way for even more spectacular (and hopefully bigger budget) episodes. Stay to the end of the credits for some great heavy metal music.

Underworld: Evolution offers escapism that explores dark lusts, power, overweening ambition, blind dedication and the purity of vision to surpass these. Just don't expect Shakespeare.

Reviewed on: 25 Jan 2006
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The vicious mythology of wars between Vampires and Lycans continues.
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Scott Macdonald *

Director: Len Wiseman

Writer: Danny McBride

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Derek Jacobi, Bill Nighy, Steven Mackintosh, Shane Brolly, Brian Steele, Zita Gorog, Scott McElroy, John Mann, Michael Sheen, Sophia Myles

Year: 2006

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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