Judge Joel Pearce says a flicks with Kate Beckinsale in skin-tight vinyl can only be so bad.
Our reviews of Underworld Trilogy (published May 22nd, 2009), Underworld Trilogy (Blu-Ray) (published May 18th, 2009), and Underworld / Underworld: Evolution (published January 23rd, 2009) are also available.
"We are oddities of nature, you and I—humanity has no place for people such as us."—Corvinus
The second entry in the Underworld series is not high art. In fact, it's not even low art. It's a slick little action flick, though. Think of it as a non-interactive video game. If that makes you say "cool," you're in for the time of your life. Oh, and let's get this out of the way right off the bat in case it's the only reason you're reading this review: Yes, Kate Beckinsale gets naked, but you don't really see much. There, now about 20% of you can move on to other things online. For the rest of you, read on.
Facts of the Case
Selene (Kate Beckinsale, Van Helsing and Michael (Scott Speedman, Dark Blue) are in trouble. They have foiled a vampire lord's nefarious scheme in the first film, but now find themselves on the run. Both the lycans and the vampires want them dead. To make matters worse, Michael is still sorting out his vampire/lycan hybrid issues. To make matters really really worse, Marcus (Tony Curran, Blade II), the oldest living vampire, wants to release his brother William, who would release a plague of animalistic lycans that would consume the earth.
It sucks to be a Death Dealer on the lam.
There's more than one kind of bad movie. There are bad movies that suck because no one had faith in the production. The budget was cut early on in the filming, special effects had to be scaled back, actors mail in their performances and look like they'd rather be back drinking in their trailers—the lack of enthusiasm shows in every facet of the film. Underworld: Evolution is not that kind of film; not in the slightest.
When I learned music in high school, we were taught (and it's true) that audiences don't notice mistakes when they are played with confidence. Everyone hits a wrong note occasionally, but you might as well play your heart out when it happens. That way, the audience connects to the performer, not the performance. Confidence and passion cover up a multitude of errors. Underworld: Evolution is a wrong note played with confidence and passion. It's that kind of bad movie.
The script and story are pretty bad, involving ancient plots and a mystery that makes little difference in the end. It's an excuse to create as many fights as possible, all featuring the same characters. Most of the story goes like this: Selene and Michael get into a fight with a group of easily defeated enemies. Then Marcus shows up, and they try to kill him with guns. It doesn't work. Someone gets wounded, and runs off. They all rest up for the next battle. This film doesn't just look like a video game, it's structured like one. Between fights, there are cut scenes that feature either some fan service (Michael, unlike all the other characters, can't transform while wearing a shirt) or some plot and character development. The thing is, though, the action sequences have obviously been assembled with a lot of care. They are big and loud, well choreographed, and plenty juicy. There are big gunfights, big explosions, and big blood splashes.
The acting is also not a drawing point. None of the cast looks embarrassed to be there, though. From the ridiculous overacting of Bill Nighy (Shaun of the Dead) at the beginning to the overwrought exchange between our star-crossed lovers and an exiled vampire historian (who happens to be close at hand), all of the actors dig into their parts with fangs and claws, mustering an enthusiasm usually reserved for broadway musicals and Saturday morning cartoon villains. At first, it's hard to take, but after a while it settles into its own manic rhythm. By the end I was a little tired of it, but I'd take that over bored actors any day. As a side note, what on earth is Derek "I've played in every Shakespeare film" Jacobi doing in Underworld: Evolution?
The special effects are similar. Director Len Wiseman excitedly talks about how the crew has combined CGI effects with miniatures and practical effects to make it all look shockingly real. Unfortunately, it doesn't. I didn't think often in the film about how the effects were created, I was just continually blown away with how fake they look. A vampire flying backwards in front of a careening truck will never look real, no matter how you set up the effects. That said, all of the visuals do flow together well, and the special effects are far less distracting than, say, Van Helsing's. Have they accomplished their goal of making it all look real? No. But it is pretty cool. It also pushes the R rating, which is refreshing to see. The action here is really graphic, and contains a few truly shocking moments.
I can comment less on the quality of the DVD. The screener I received is full screen, which suggests that the widescreen version of the disc is extremely high quality. The same color scheme is back from the original film, an almost monochromatic blue to suggest the vampires' ability to see in the dark (which makes you wonder why they need flashlights and torches…). The full screen framing definitely takes away from the quality of the action scenes. The sound is excellent, with plenty of effects coming from all directions, and some nice meaty LFE delivered in some scenes.
There are also a number of special features on the Underworld: Evolution DVD. A slew of featurettes offer insight into the production of the film, and the creators speak with an excitement and sincerity that is rarely seen on studio DVD extras. The commentary track shows the same enthusiasm, featuring Len Wiseman and several other crew members. Their knowledge of what their fans want comes through, both in terms of the film and the commentary. They have found their niche, and genuinely went for it. There is a music video as well.
If you walk into Underworld: Evolution expecting some brilliant development in the vampire/werewolf genre, you will be sorely disappointed. This is an action flick, first and foremost, with the emphasis on gooey fight scenes and tight vinyl outfits. On that level, it works pretty well, if you can turn a blind eye to the monumental plot gaps and some truly silly acting. If you dug the first one, kick back and enjoy the ride. Purists are well advise to get their vampire cravings fed elsewhere.
They didn't promise you high art, and they didn't deliver it. How can I accuse a film of doing exactly what it promises?
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