Directed by Len Wiseman. Starring Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen. (2006, R, 106 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 27, 2006
Len Wiseman and other genre directors of his ilk ought to take a tip from Morrissey – Paul Morrissey, of Blood For Dracula, that is – and note that horrific set-pieces gain less than nothing when overlaid with a splash of pummeling nü-metal. Morrissey, you’ll recall, rendered Udo Kier’s fey count positively sympathetic, thanks in large part to Claudio Gizzi’s atmospheric strings, a not-inconsiderable task considering his star’s penchant for playing to the bloody back row. The ongoing hostilities between the vampires and the werewolves in Underworld: Evolution, however, are pockmarked by the discordant likes of Puscifer and Slipknot, outfits whose cascading rains of sheet metal can do little but distract from the gothy kick of watching Britbabe Kate Beckinsale pirouette the length of the screen whilst clad in skintight vinyl couture. Perhaps the soundtrack is meant as a humorous counterpoint to the grimly sacrosanct storyline, but I doubt it; the Underworld movies are nothing if not Very Serious Indeed. Too serious, I think. Beckinsale, who again plays the death-dealing vampire warrior Selene, is a natural and sinuously athletic performer of action, and it’s a pleasure to watch her lay waste to the bad guys, be they CGI or flesh and blood. Hers is an economically no-nonsense grace – the opposite, say, of Uma Thurman’s bloody-knuckled brawling in the Kill Bills. Here, with vampire/werewolf halfbreed Michael (Speedman) by her side, she’s never too battered to pass up a bit of the old bleed-and-tickle, despite having just been inhu-manhandled by ur-vampire Marcus (Tony Curran). At least she’s got her priorities straight. Underworld: Evolution suffers from a severe case of overplotting, which dovetails with its stridently serious tone but renders much of the film’s lengthy back story (you’ll need to have seen the original, and recently, to muddle it out) a blur of political machinations between the warring clans. Marcus, sporting some nicely prehensile wings that look to be on loan from Go Nagai’s Devilman, is seeking to free his imprisoned Lycan sibling William (Brian Steele) from an eternal imprisonment courtesy of the bad lads’ dad, Corvinus (Sir Derek Jacobi, radiating gravitas), who long ago saw the error of his loins. He also wants Selene’s head, if not mounted on a pike, then at the very least removed from the immediate location of her neck. And Marcus, sensibly, appears to be thirsting for little more than another round of hide-the-blutwurst with Selene. It all unfolds with the regularity of clockwork, sheathed in director of photography Simon Duggan’s gunmetal blues and paced at roughly the speed of Jonathan Harker’s Transylvanian carriage ride in Murnau’s Nosferatu. Still, it’s not quite quick enough to be anywhere near as gloomily engaging as the cast’s original outing.