Underworld: Evolution (2006) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

Vampires and werewolves are big business in mainstream media, with a veritable feast of TV shows and movies being dedicated to the mythical creatures across the decades. So when something comes along that slots straight into the mainstream zeitgeist with its gothic visuals and sexy vampires fighting pesky swearwolves, you know what’s coming next. Yup, sequels and prequels! As mentioned in our previous episode that sunk its teeth into the fun but flawed Underworld from 2003, director Len Wiseman found love with his leading lady, Kate Beckinsale. And, if you’re being massively cynical, you could perhaps suggest that their star-struck Hollywood romance is one of the main reasons a follow-up to the first movie was green-lit. Or maybe it was the decent box-office, cool world-building or maybe even the lashings of S&M clad characters? The first movie, as we discussed previously, is flawed and far from perfect but you know what, I liked it, hairy Lycan warts and all. Whatever your view of the movie is, it had a lot going for it and, let’s face it, this type of genre flick has gone down the once dreaded straight to home video route before. The main selling point is obviously Beckinsale’s Selene, with her slo-mo acrobatics, raucous firefights and tight leather costume. And that long overcoat she pilfered from Neo. Director Wiseman obviously thought so, with the endless glamor shots of his partner, whom he married in 2004, but sadly divorced from a number of years later. Sequels are never an easy undertaking, with audience and fan expectation heightened by what’s come before. So could the promise of some further world-building lead to a follow-up that expands upon the first movie and ups the vampire vs werewolf action significantly? Let’s find out, here on WTF happened to Underworld: Evolution!

Let’s just take a moment to look at the merits of some vampire and werewolf flicks that showed the world that their impact on mainstream culture was merited and worthy of potential sequels. Or on the contrary, that should have been staked through the heart and left to slowly decay. Well, don’t get me started on the awful Twilight series. I appreciate how huge the books are and the cultural impact of the franchise as a whole, and at least it introduced a new audience to the mythology of vampires and shape-shifters. But, vamps shimmering in the sunlight in a largely bloodless and raunch-free teen-friendly setting is too tame for this particular gore-hound. Nope. No thanks. See you later Bella and friends. Give me the black and white, punk vampire western aesthetic of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Del Toro’s excellent Cronos, or the hilarious hijinx of What We Do in the Shadows, both on the big and small screen, over Twilight any time. But, that’s just my own personal opinion, gore-hounds!

The point is, there’s obviously an audience out there for Underworld, and while the merits of the series is subjective to your own personal tastes, we can still dissect what works in terms of the follow-ups’ narrative and if it expands upon the mythology sufficiently. The story for Underworld: Evolution (watch it HERE) was again written by director Wiseman and Danny McBride, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay. In terms of cast we get the leather clad Kate Beckinsale back again, naturally, plus Bill Nighy returning in a smaller role this time, which makes sense when you see the movie, even though his head was sliced in two in the first installment. Scott Speedman’s Michael also returns as does Shane Brolly’s Kraven. The main cast is also joined in this one by the classically trained English Shakespearian actor, Derek Jacobi, as the progenitor of both the vampire and werewolf bloodlines, Alexander Cornivus. It’s fun seeing the great Jacobi on screen in such an admittedly over the top but entertaining genre flick like this. We also get Tony Curran as Markus Cornivus, Steven Mackintosh as Andreas Tanis and the returning Zita Gorog as vampire elder Amelia.

Like the first movie, Evolution boasts a solid cast and talent behind the camera, so could it not only expand upon the mythology, answer some questions about the battle between the vamps and Lycans, and deliver some kick-ass bloodthirsty action? Well, it tries to achieve all of these elements but just doesn’t quite manage to stick the slo-mo, leather-trousered landing. The blood-feud between the two factions continues apace in Wiseman’s cranked up sequel, with more of the expected goth-flavored sex appeal, blood-spillage and grisly spectacle. The movie opens with a prologue set in a frosty medieval village that’s been ravaged by those pesky Lycans, who as we all know by now, are the sworn enemies of the slightly poncy Vampire clan. Amongst the corpses littering the streets, just ready to transform, we’re introduced to two brothers, Tony Curran’s Marcus and William, played mainly by some monstrous CGI. You see, Marcus was bitten by a bat and William by a wolf, which sets us up nicely for a sibling power struggle. Which, naturally, is set against a bleak, gothic environment where leather clad ladies lay waste to beasties with her twin pistols, like she’s just stepped off the set of a badly lit John Woo movie.

The prologue at least rectifies an issue with the first movie, in that the vampires and werewolves spent a lot time of shooting at each other while wearing black leather or as a badly rendered CGI beastie, but don’t necessarily seem like the classic creatures. The opening scenes of Evolution at least give us a glimpse into their origins, and we also get to see some freshly turned Lycans bite some vampire faces off, which is always fun. Once the action switches to the present day, the blood-sucking Markus emerges from his tomb as one ugly mother fucker with wings he uses to behead his enemies. It’s appreciated, because the monsters are at last actually acting like monsters in the series. Meanwhile, the star crossed lovers, Selene and Michael, are coming to terms with his new status as a hybrid, and the fact that they need to stop Markus from freeing his Lycan brother from his very long entombment. The first act of the movie gives us some pretty decent set pieces, including a truck chase with the winged Markus in full flight, and climaxes with a sex scene between Selene and Michael. It’s been a long coming, but it sure looks like their body doubles are enjoying themselves at least.

The rest of the narrative from this point onwards doesn’t get any more complicated other than it would be pretty bad if Markus freed William from his slumber, as he’s also a proper beast himself. Plus, both brothers are direct ancestors of their respective races and were sired by Derek Jacobi’s Alexander Corvinus. What isn’t clear though, is how his offspring are able to mutate into super-beasts while Corvinus seems to be stuck in the body of a classic Shakespearian English actor. The movie’s tangled plot gets bogged down by concentrating on backstories, and age-old-motivations, while Beckinsale continues to be the series’ selling point, opposite the underwhelming and seemingly emotionless Scott Speedman as Michael. Their relationship is fairly believable, however, and at least they share some decent chemistry at times.

The first movie had that uber cool shot of Selene’s balletic drop from the roof and while the sequel attempts to recreate this several times, choppy editing and poorly executed camera angles lessen the impact. To be fair though, the action in the movie is fairly well produced and as well as the aforementioned truck chase we also get a fun, if CGI heavy finale, with rampant mutated beasts and a nice bit of rotor blade comeuppance for one particular character. The settings and location work gives the movie the look of any other generic horror or fantasy epics of the time, and while the CGI monsters aren’t always convincing, to say the least, you can forgive this to a certain degree due to the film’s heightened reality. The most successful use of VFX and character design goes to the winged Markus, with Curran’s menacing performance a highlight of the movie. This sequel is by no way the disaster it could have been, nor is it the evolution (pun intended) the series needed. However, the promise of future installments at the end of the film doesn’t elicit the groans it could have easily done, which is something at least.

Underworld: Evolution premiered at the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles on January 11th, 2006 and was released in the US on January 20th by Sony Pictures. The movie opened at number one at the domestic box office with a haul of $26.9 million dollars over its opening weekend, from a total of 3,207 screens. It didn’t have much in the way of similar competition at the time, with only torture porn shocker Hostel competing for the same audience, which was in week three and had already dropped down to number 10 in the charts. Critically, the movie was, predictably, slated by most reviewers. It has a 17% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the site’s consensus saying the movie is, “A visual and aural assault on the senses, this vampire-werewolf sequel makes a lot of noise and features a heavy-handed, overly convoluted story.” That is, of course, if you take any notice of that particular website. The New York Times were critical of the movie’s overall ‘look’ and also described it as, “a monotonous barrage of computer-generated fur and fangs.” The San Francisco Chronicle were also less than enthused about the colour grade, saying, “you can tell that Underworld: Evolution is trying to be an artistic action-horror film, because every scene is bathed in the color blue,” but going on to offer some faint praise, “It’s an admirable attempt to test the boundaries of the genre but is confusing and not fun to watch”.

Ultimately then, Evolution doesn’t, well, ‘evolve’ the series in any major way, but if you take it for what it really is, a formulaic genre flick, it’s still a fun watch. It’s far from perfect and is light on both characterisation and an engrossing narrative, but Beckinsale works the leather well again and some of the other main cast members bring a decent amount of menace to proceedings. More importantly though, I’d love to hear about what YOUR opinion is, as that is what matters to us most here at JoBlo; so let us know your thoughts of Underworld: Evolution in the comments section. Does it deliver a worthy part two or should the franchise have been obliterated by some out of control rotor blades? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this one, you wonderful gore-hounds. Thanks for watching!

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/underworld-evolution-wtf/

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