Ever since the first Underworld came out, there has been talk of a sequel. Director Len Wiseman has often said that the story he wanted to tell was too big to be told in one film, so another was planned, almost from the beginning. So here it is; does it deliver? Yes, and no. While this film does take up where the last one left off, much of
what I loved about the first film (discussion of genetics and its place in these mutations, the initial war between lycans and vampires) is jettisoned for more action and faster pacing. Which makes for a cooler ride, but not necessarily a more enjoyable one.
That’s not to say that this film isn’t a great ride, it’s just that the story laid out from the first one shows the promise of a thinking person’s horror film, and Evolution turns out to be another “go get the monsters” film. Fun, but after the high-tech, almost science fiction-like slant of the first film, is a bit of a letdown. Maybe that’s because writer/actor Kevin Grevioux doesn’t have a hand in the storyline this time, so the science got lost. Perhaps it’s because at 106 minutes, it’s about 15 minutes shorter than the original film, and they just didn’t have the time to shoehorn in more backstory. Or it’s possible that the producers chanted the usual “more, louder, faster” mantra during production, so original ideas got left by the wayside.
This time, Selene and Michael are on the run after the events from the first film come to light. But Marcus, the last surviving elder of their coven, has been transformed into a sort of super-hybrid, and is determined to track down the two lovers in order to find his long lost lycan brother, William. Yes, you read that last part correctly; I said lovers. Selene and Michael amp up their relationship in this film, and rather quickly, too. Selene goes from a vampire who for the last 600 years or so has shut herself off from all connections (save
that of Viktor, the father figure who ultimately betrayed her) to open-hearted
girlfriend in the first thirty minutes of this film. There’s nary a kiss in the original, but here the love scene early on makes up for lost time. The would-be lovebirds don’t have too much time to enjoy each other’s company though, since they’re hightailing it away from Marcus for pretty much the entire movie.
Loose ends from the original story are tied up quickly – almost instantly – and the new tale is off and running before you can say “swept under the rug.” Yes, there’s usually only room for one bad guy in these types of tales. But with more attention to the story, other lesser evils could have been played to greater effect. Again, this wouldn’t have been much of a concern if the first film didn’t provide several multi-layered boo-hiss characters, any of whom could have risen to the rank of number one baddie. Instead the original fit them all in, showing that everything isn’t always cut and dry.
The importance of family and how far someone will go to protect their own is carried on in this film. But it’s a bit more heavy handed this time around. Instead of characters feeling that they must do the things they do because of love, characters more often seem doomed by their responsibilities. They just can’t help themselves; hey, family is family, waddaya gonna do? Costumes are well done in this sequel, as is the art direction. Scenes from centuries past look amazing, but in more of an Excalibur kind of way rather than the down-and-dirty realism of something like Braveheart.
But let’s face it, you don’t see horror movies for historical realism. You go for the cool factor. And this movie looks cool. And in that vein, the special effects are excellent as well. Animatronics, CGI and makeup are all used to brilliant effect, providing more believable eye-candy than any single type of effect would. As with the first film, the effects in this movie are graphic, with bodies being torn asunder and blood dripping everywhere. I loved it, but those looking for more scares and less gore should know that this film is going to give you both barrels.
The film itself is beautifully shot, with the same colors of blue, black and grey that gave the first film an eerie but strangely high-tech feel. That feeling is here too, although the gadgetry that was rampant in the first film is strangely subdued here. One of my favorite scenes involves the vampire Tannis, a sort of otherworldly “Q” that provides Selene with some interesting weapons and a very interesting history lesson. I would have liked more of how lycans and vampires cope in the modern day, and how their fight has changed with the passage of time, but this film’s focus on Marcus’ desire to find his brother leaves no room for tangents. Pity. The end of this film wraps things up nicely, but Selene’s soliloquy at the end also leaves room for a third film. Time will tell if there’s enough in this particular well of mythology to pull out a third tale.
This is a good film that only suffers from the potential the first film laid out. A common curse with many sequels, but one that doesn’t harm the basic story of this film . . . if that’s all you’ve got. There’s enough of a prologue at the beginning of this film that viewers unfamiliar with the original story can get an idea of what’s going on without feeling left in the dark. The DVD provides featurettes that I would recommend to any would-be film student, or ardent fan of moviemaking. Ten to fifteen minute shorts on special effects, stunts and the filmmaking process provide an interesting look behind the scenes to see how a film of this magnitude is made. Those special features left me wanting more. Too bad the movie itself doesn’t bring out the same feeling.
(Sony Pictures, 2006)