Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the Big Deal?
Underworld: Evolution is an action fantasy film released in 2006, and it is the second film in the Underworld franchise. Directed by series co-creator Len Wiseman, the film follows a vampiric warrior thrown into a deadly battle against forces both werewolf and vampire as an ancient power rises from the past to risk the future. The film stars Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Steven Mackintosh, Shane Brolly, Bill Nighy and Derek Jacobi. The film was previewed at the 2005 San Diego Comic Con with much attention from fans, but sadly, the film was heavily criticised upon release the following year. Despite this, the film did manage to find an audience with global takings in excess of $111 million, but the next film in the series - Rise Of The Lycans - became a prequel instead of following the current chronology. It wouldn't be until the fourth film Awakening in 2012 that the series narrative was resumed.
What's It About?
In the immediate aftermath of the events of the first film, vampire warrior Selene escapes with her companion Michael to a safe house. Michael, who has become a lycan-vampire hybrid, is now being hunted by both sides as the eons-old war between the two continues to rage. In an effort to try and swing the war in their favour, Selene decides to confront the last remaining vampire elder Marcus and expose the conspiracy at the heart of the conflict - that vampire ruler Kraven set up a secret alliance with Lycan leader Lucien and between them, they agree to eliminate the human bloodline descended from their common ancestor Alexander Corvinus. With Michael the last surviving member of this bloodline, Selene's motives are more than personal.
However, Kraven has morphed into a demonic bat-like creature while Markus and his vampire followers seek to release Marcus' brother William, himself an ancient and powerful lycan. As Selene and Alexander begin to work together to understand the complex history of their bloodline, Michael slips out from the safe house and finds himself slowly discovering his vampire side coming to the fore. With Michael quickly outnumbered by murderous lycans and humans, Selene must rescue Michael once more and bring an end to the conflict before Marcus can complete his deadly scheme.
What's to Like?
While not exactly a classic, I enjoyed the first Underworld due to its high levels of stylish violence and Gothic atmosphere that suited the vampire characters involved. It's like watching The Matrix going through a difficult Goth phase but it works. The film also pays homage to the likes of John Woo with debris flying through the air in slow motion and blood literally spurting from a variety of monsters. If I were in my teenage years then this would be right up my street. The film is also massively aided by Beckinsale as the softly-spoken bad-ass Selene, wearing her Trinity-style catsuit once again and dispensing death and destruction with aplomb.
The film might not have the luxury of a massive budget but it's worth mentioning how far this budget is stretched. Costumes and set design feel of a very high standard and help reinforce the traditional Gothic aesthetic. But anyone hoping for a darker experience this time around might be disappointed - the film works far harder trying to be a very cool action film, albeit one with more fangs and fur than usual. It almost feels like a music video, full of stylised visuals and choreographed movement but ultimately lacking any sort of depth. However, if you enjoyed the first film then chances are, you'll feel more inclined to enjoy this one. Newcomers, however, will wonder what on Earth is going on.
- In all the official credits, the novelisation, the official website and all the production notes, the character of Marcus is spelt with a C. However, in the film's opening text crawl, the character is spelt with a K - 'Markus'.
- The opening battle scene was shot on a stage built onto a ski slope but snow didn't start to fall until shortly before shooting started. The falling snow seen on screen is entirely natural.
- The sex scene between Selene and Michael was originally much longer but was ultimately cut. Part of the reason was because Beckinsale demanded not to be seen fully nude on screen but it's rumoured that the scene would also have resulted in the film receiving a NC-17 rating in the US, which would have proved disastrous for the box office potential for the film.
What's Not to Like?
Unfortunately, newcomers aren't alone in being confused. The film is awash with backstory, flashbacks and unspoken lore that not only confuses anyone who isn't a hardcore fan of the series but even contradicts itself at times. Full marks to anyone who was able to follow what was going on in the film because, frankly, I was lost after a while. As good as the action scenes are, the film grinds to an absolute halt whenever characters are required to do anything other than fight and have sex. Wiseman knows how to deliver plenty of kinetic energy and visual poise during a gunfight but is completely unable to motivate his cast who remain po-faced and far too serious throughout everything. Even fighting or having sex.
Weirdly, the film is almost constantly bathed in a distracting blue light which does little but drain any real colour from the screen. To be honest, it would have been more effective if the film was shot in black-and-white or with an occasional flash of colour like Sin City. I'm no media studies student so perhaps I'm missing the reason behind this blue tint but I can't figure out why this decision was taken. It actually makes it feel even more like a music video and for a film with so much story and lore crammed into what is basically a violent fantasy film (and not successfully either), the lack of depth and the sheer superficiality of it ruins any hope the film had of remaining in the memory for longer than a packet of crisps.
Should I Watch It?
It's a pity that this sequel squanders so much of its potential by trying to do too much at once. It's too confusing to be a thriller, not scary enough to be a proper horror and far too superficial to really get the adrenaline pumping. Beckinsale's Trinity-cosplay routine isn't enough to recommend the picture to anyone besides my fifteen-year-old self and anyone looking for a flashy but underwhelming action picture. What a shame.
Great For: me but many years ago, teenage boys, internet perverts, forgiving fans of the first film
Not So Great For: anyone hoping for a narrative, the easily distracted, anyone hoping to look as good as Beckinsale in a catsuit
What Else Should I Watch?
The next film, as I mentioned at the start of this article, was a prequel - one that was greenlit along with Underworld: Evolution after the success of the first film. Rise Of The Lycans focuses on the origins of the conflict between vampire and werewolf, with Michael Sheen's Lucien taking centre stage and Beckinsale's Selene reduced to a brief cameo. Despite Sheen's typically solid performance, the film didn't exactly set the world alight so the fourth film went back to the old formula with Beckinsale once again returning to helm Awakening. Unsurprisingly, the result was the same - a negative critical reaction but a modest box office success. By the time the fifth film Blood Wars came out in 2016, the well had truly dried up and the series has been technically on hiatus ever since. However, Beckinsale has cast some doubt on whether she will be returning for a sixth film so the chances don't look good.
Vampires have enjoyed much more success than their werewolf counterparts on the big screen with the likes of Twilight, The Lost Boys and From Dusk Till Dawn all becoming franchises of their own. But the king of them is undoubtedly the Big D himself, Dracula and he has a multitude of cinematic outings for fans to choose. From Bela Lugosi's iconic portrayal in 1931's Dracula, Christopher Lee's timeless appearance as the blood-sucker in the 1958 version, Gary Oldman's appearance in 1992's Bram Stoker's Dracula to the most recent effort, 2014's Dracula Untold which serves as an origin story for the character. By contrast, werewolves haven't had as much exposure in films but there are still some worth checking out. An American Werewolf In London brings much of the horror element to the fore and features some ground-breaking special effects but for anyone looking for something a little lighter, try seminal Eighties coming-of-age film Teen Wolf. It's as goofy as you like and about as scary as an otter floating happily in a river but some of you may like it. Horses for courses and all that.
Release Date (UK)
20th January, 2006
Action, Fantasy, Thriller
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