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106 min
Release Date
Underworld Evolution

If the 2003 supernatural thriller Underworld is mostly about vampires and werewolves looking stylish while shooting guns at each other in John Woo-style action sequences, then the sequel Underworld: Evolution is all about grotesque monsters battling one another in unintelligible hand-to-hand combat. Which is better or worse? I don’t believe an answer to that question exists. It depends on your tastes, I suppose. Do you prefer your monsters with guns, or do you prefer them to strike with their claws and teeth? Both brands of monster-fighting are in this film, as the ever-fully-loaded vamp “death dealer” Selene (Kate Beckinsale) returns with her half-Lycan half-bloodsucker hybrid boyfriend Michael (Scott Speedman). She’s armed with silver nitrate bullets to destroy the werewolf horde; he turns into something resembling a black panther and jumps about the room in a hissing fit. They’re a match made in heaven.

Director Len Wiseman, who married Beckinsale after their first collaboration together, returns behind the camera to bring his brand of style-over-substance storytelling to the screen. This movie continues with the series’ complicated history of melodramatic backstabbing, hidden truths, and broken ancient laws. Beginning in 1202 A.D., the film recounts how the first vampire, Markus (Tony Curran), and the first werewolf, William (Brian Steele), were actually sons of Alexander Corvinus (Derek Jacobi) and have since split to rule over their two separate factions. Markus asked a dying lord Viktor (Bill Nighy) to lead his descendants, promising him immortality in exchange. But Viktor insisted upon reigning in William, the out-of-control wolfman threatening his people. So against Markus’ wishes, Viktor locks up William for all time, leaving Markus a sourpuss forevermore.

Back to the present day. Perhaps you remember how in Underworld a werewolf goon was punched by Viktor so hard half his face went flying off? No? Well, it happened, trust me. And even if you don’t remember, this movie has plenty of flashbacks. Anyway, that goon bled into Markus’s resting chamber, awakening him in the form of a mega-bat creature with pointy wings he uses as spears. He kills all the vamps around him, including that whining pipsqueak Kraven from the first movie, and then makes it his mission to get the two-piece key that will unlock his wolfman brother. One piece is around Michael’s neck. The other was in Viktor’s chest, but since his face was cut in half in the first movie, Alexander Corvinus has reclaimed it. Bloody battles ensue as Markus tries to get the pieces back.

Told with less of that Gothic edge from the first, Underworld: Evolution doesn’t care so much about appealing to Nine Inch Nails crowds, rather just those into bloody horror and action. It might be said that the tone has been dumbed-down for the sequel, but the first wasn’t any smarter, so that wouldn’t be fair. Wiseman forces in some gratuitous sex scenes, one featuring his wife and Mr. Speedman, the other between an imprisoned vamp historian (Steven Mackintosh) and some random horny vamps. Both are unnecessary.

The film entertains in a mindless way, so you might gather some use for it late Saturday night when you’re half awake and need something to feed your boredom. The problem is, none of the simple pleasures of the first are present in this picture, nor is the conspicuous presence of top-notch actors like Michael Sheen and Billy Nighy (they appear only briefly in flashbacks). With more sloppy computer graphics rendering more fantastical movie monsters, the sequel boasts a lot of digital fakery directed without much grace. The result is dark and noisy and sorta fun to chuckle at, not with.

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