Underworld: Evolution

Underworld:  Evolution
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Derek Jacobi, Steven Mackintosh, Brian Steele
Director: Len Wiseman
Screenplay: Danny McBride
Genre: Action / Horror / Fantasy
Rated: MA
Running Time: 105 minutes

'Underworld: Evolution' continues right where 'Underworld' left off and if you haven't seen it you'll be pretty confused - and possibly even if you have. Seline (Kate Beckinsale) is a powerful vampire who has spent centuries waging war against the lycans (werewolves) but has discovered dangerous enemies amongst her own kind. Now she has teamed up with Michael (Scott Speedman), a lycan hybrid. They're out to save the world from the evil machinations of Marcus (Tony Curran), a scary super vamp (he has wings and likes to impale people on the pointy ends) determined to unleash all manner of badness upon humanity. Something about an amulet and an ancient castle and blah blah blah.

My verdict:
Kate Beckinsale fans (remember 'Cold Comfort Farm'?) - beware. Of course she looks great and kicks ass in fine style. She pretty much carries the movie and when the cast includes Derek Jacobi (Sir Derek Jacobi, as the credits helpfully remind us) that's something. But it's not much. With dialogue either bland or hopelessly expositional and a less than convincing love story, this is an uphill slog all the way. It looks gloriously gothic and if you can enjoy the experience as a classy video game you may get your money's worth. But for those who fancy a bit of drama along with their theme park ride there's little to get excited about here.

Director Len Wiseman and screenwriter Danny McBride are fanboy enough to know that vampires are cool but don't have a clue why. It's not that they're great fighters or because they wear black - or even that they drink blood. Vampires are rule breakers. The guilt-free representation of our darkest desires, a vampire character can do unspeakable things and keep the audience's sympathy. They are monsters but can be saints, seducers or philosophers. At the very least they are tormented, caught between the humans they once were and the demons they have become. But 'Underworld: Evolution' is an action movie at heart. For all the English accents and funny outfits it's scarcely more subversive than 'Walker, Texas Ranger'. Seline is just Lara Croft with fangs, and we don't even see much of those. No doubt we're supposed to look into her strange eyes and see the sorrows of a hundred generations - but they seem just vacant. Seline has no sense of humour whatsoever. She seems vaguely interested in doing right but we don't know why and suspect she's not that fussed either way. She livens up when her gormless werewolf boyfriend is threatened but even then "Shit!" is about the extent of her eloquence. Their relationship is supposed to be true love but they have nothing to say to each other and when they get in the bedroom it's not exactly 'Last Tango in Paris'.

'Underworld' had many of these problems but at least you knew what it was about. Two young people, deceived into being mortal enemies, fall in love. This is a simple story that can't help but have a certain resonance (what was that thing about Montagues and Capulets?). All we can infer from 'Underworld: Evolution' is that Len and co have got hold of a franchise and don't intend to let go come hell or high water. Or a complete lack of ideas.

So we have vampires and werewolves back for another round of biffo, except now some of them are souped up (ie. evolved) versions. Seline clearly knows her stuff and takes charge but this is a film aimed squarely at the lads and even a stunner in skin-tight leather can't be allowed to hog all the fun. So what genius plan have the filmmakers come up with to bring the dopey Michael into the mix? Well, they realised, there are two heroes - a vampire and a werewolf. So why not two villains? A vampire and a werewolf! No, wait, a super vampire and a super werewolf! To make for an even cosier double date, it happens that both Michael and Seline are a touch 'evolved' themselves. Sure, this tends to remove the possibility of any kind of suspense but it's a small price to pay for such pleasing narrative symmetry. A more fitting title for this pointless exercise would be 'Underworld: Even More DVD Sales'.

Rating : *1/2

Briony Kidd