Like Romeo and Juliet as seen through the eyes of Hammer Films, Len Wiseman’s cult-hit, Underworld, established a universe rich in history, character, and potential for future development. The larger story of a centuries old war between Vampires and Lycans was brought down to earth by a love story focusing on Selene (Beckinsale), an elite vampire assassin known as a Death Dealer, and Michael (Speedman), a human with blood ties to her ancient enemies. By the original film’s end, Michael’s destiny had been revealed, Selene’s world shattered, and both of them were on the run.
Underworld: Evolution picks up where the last film left off, with ample doses of flashbacks and explanations for the newly initiated, and an introduction to a new nasty in the guise of Tony Curran’s Marcus Corvinus, the last of the vampire elders. Marcus, who has now transformed into a hideous winged hybrid thanks to a dose of blood from a Lycan scientist (which happened in the first film, but is replayed here), has set out to find his brother, William, the “original” Lycan, in hopes of populating the world with hybrids. Michael, who is Marcus’s key to finding his brother, is having problems of his own, adjusting to his newfound powers (as well as his new digestive system!), and seeks only to assist Selene in bringing an end to the Vampire/Lycan conflict forever. Things are complicated by the fact that Selene’s former employers are now hunting her, as well.
I am a huge fan of the Underworld mythos, and would love to see this series continue to its intended end (Wiseman and co-writer Danny McBride have repeatedly said this would be a trilogy), but Undeworld: Evolutions hinted at the problematic nature of such a bold and expansive endeavor, oftentimes feeling somewhat convoluted and confused by its own complex storyline. I think the main problem here is that Wiseman and McBride put too much focus on explaining what had gone before to assist new viewers in digesting the plot, but the results are actually more confusing. A simple recap, perhaps even a Star Wars style text crawl, would have done the trick here, leaving the writers free to offer up the next chapter unencumbered by the heavy load carried over from the first film. I also found the flashback segments, presented in “sepia tones” and “aged film” distracting.
That being said, Underworld: Evolution is still a hugely entertaining film, packed with excellent action sequences, solid special effects, and the same attention to character and detail that made the first film, in my opinion, such a rousing success. The lovely Beckinsale offers another, more vulnerable side to her Selene, while Speedman is given much more to do this time around, especially when he’s in full-blown hybrid mode. Curran’s Marcus makes for a great, scene-stealing villain, and the look of his character is a monster movie fan’s dream (if only the folks behind Van Helsing had half the imagination of Wiseman’s crew).
Sony presents Underworld: Evolution in a feature-packed special edition that sports no less than six featurettes, a filmmaker’s commentary, and music video. However, fans of the series will know that the last film received a two-disc special edition shortly after its initial release that offered nearly twice as much content (as well as the unrated director’s cut of the film), so whether or not one wants to wait out that version is up to them.
I really like this series and would love to see it completed. While neither film has exactly garnered the box-office figures that scream sequel, something tells me the Wiseman and McBride have their creation so tightly plotted and prepared that a third and final film could be made for a fraction of your average Hollywood blockbuster production, and would most definitely do well enough on DVD to justify its cost. Rumor has it that the last film will be a prequel, set well before the introduction of Beckinsale’s Selene (sigh), so, while we may have seen the last of the lovely British actress in skin tight leather, at the very least we may still get one more visit to this dark and fantastic world.