Monday, June 26, 2006

Underworld Evolution - review

Director: Len Wiseman

Release Date: 2006

Contains Spoilers

Underworld Evolution is the sequel to 2003’s Underworld and continues the story from the first film.

Just a reminder here that, in the first film, we discovered that the first immortal, due to a virus, was Alexander Corvinus. He passed the virus to his two sons Marcus and William. Marcus was bitten by a bat and the virus mutated so he became a vampire and William was bitten by a wolf, again the virus mutated and he became a lycan. Those that they bite can contract the virus and become whichever species (vampire or lycan) they are bitten by. A combination of the original virus, plus lycan and vampire virus will create a lycan/vampire hybrid. Thus Michael (Scott Speedman), a descendant of Corvinus who carried a dormant form of the original virus, was infected by a lycan and then a vampire and became the first hybrid. At the end of the film we saw Marcus, in his tomb, open his eye and it was a hybrid eye, due to the fact that lycan blood had been spilled into his resting place.

This film begins begin with a scene from 1202 AD and a group of vampire knights ride into a village and face a scene of massacre. The three elders from or mentioned in the first movie are there, Viktor (Bill Nighy), Amelia (Zita Görög) and Marcus Corvinus (Tony Curran, who is no stranger to vampire movies having been in Blade 2 (2002) and, with a vampire involved, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)). The devastation has been caused by the lycan they hunt, William Corvinus (Brian Steele), but as they enter the village Marcus tells Viktor that he doesn’t want his brother harmed. As they search, and burn the bodies, the villagers begin to turn. We find out later in the film that these early lycans were more beast than man and could not revert to human form once turned as they were unable to control their rage. Marcus is sent away for his safety, Viktor believes that if Marcus – the first vampire – dies then the entire bloodline dies (superstitious nonsense, we later discover, but a lie that Viktor was not willing to test). As the battle rages on Viktor hears that they have found William. The huge lycan is being shot by crossbow bolts with heavy chains attached and eventually is caught. It becomes clear that Viktor has claimed the balance of power from Marcus and orders the lycan imprisoned for all time.

Following the medieval scene we get a brief run through of the first film by Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and then see that she and Michael have found a vampire safehouse, though they may soon be found as the activation of the safehouse will be noted on the vampires’ security systems. Selene is to return to the mansion from the first film to plead their case to Marcus and try to get clemency for Michael. She is convinced that the traitor Kraven (Shane Brolly) will try to kill Marcus whilst he is in his tomb.

Kraven has indeed gone back to the mansion with some of his men and opens Marcus tomb but it is empty. Marcus, in a bat type form, bursts from the floor, kills the men and then, having pinned Kraven with his talon tipped wings, feeds to steal his blood memories and then kills him.

A couple of things to note here. You may recall, if you read my review of the previous film, that I was somewhat scathing of Brolly’s acting. I saw this film on its opening night at the cinema and my friends and I had heard, before going in, that Kraven died early on. It is sad to say that when we saw the character die, up on the big screen, we could barely contain a cheer. It is interesting that Marcus’ hybrid form is different to Michael’s. Michael was lycan and then was bitten by a vampire and his form is closer to that of a wolf. On the other hand Marcus was a vampire who imbued lycan blood hence, I believe, his bat like form.

Anyway, getting back to the film, Marcus realises where Selene and Michael are. In a nice sequence he ‘remembers’ how computers work through Kraven’s blood memories. Michael has got himself in trouble, having gone to try and eat human food (which Selene had warned him could kill him), and is being hunted by cops until Selene rescues him. Marcus goes after Selene and Michael and we get a rather action packed fight on a truck with Selene driving, Michael on the back and Marcus flying after them. He also tries to steal Lucian’s pendant that Michael now has. They get away and manage to hide from the sun, with only a smidge of burning of Selene’s hand and face. Now there is something wrong with this scene’s logic. It becomes clear that when out of the sun she is safe (obviously) yet her gloved hand burns (the material melting away). It didn’t make much sense to me, if covered her hand should have been safe, but it is a really nice looking effect and a small example of the style overcoming the content.

All this is being monitored by a man on a ship whom we find out later is Alexander Corvinus (the excellent Sir Derek Jacobi). Alexander, it seems, has remained hidden on the sidelines of the troubles, trying to keep the war concealed from humanity by cleaning up the mess his sons have made. The main thrust of the film is that Marcus wants to free William and to do so he needs the two parts of a key, one was implanted into Viktor’s sternum and is now held by Alexander and the second is Lucian’s pendant. He also needs the location of the prison, which is only known by Selene, though she doesn’t realise it, and he can find the location by consuming her blood and stealing the memory.

The film, like the first, is a massive victory of style over substance. The plot in this seems simpler than the first but the action is much more impressive. The acting is, generally, good enough and Speedman is much better than he was in the first movie. It also seemed that the chemistry between Michael and Selene was that much more believable, though that does bring me to my main gripe with the film.

There is a sex scene involving Michael and Selene but it just doesn’t seem to work. It is very stylistic, true enough, but perhaps too tasteful. For a modern film, with an eighteen certificate, we see nothing of Selene’s body and that seems strange. Some might argue that being tasteful is a positive but it is not done for any form of moral sensibility, after all we see other naked flesh, briefly, later. It is shot in that way, I believe, because the actress is married to the director. If there is such reticence to show any of his wife’s body, why have the scene? The scene also looks anomalous because, in the position they are in, Michael must have the most oddly placed anatomy. The film would probably have been better for not having the scene at all.

Another problematic scene, where belief had to be suspended, was when William was released from his prison (not too much of a spoiler, I trust, as it was bound to happen). The werewolf has been kept in a sealed sarcophagus for eight hundred years. Even if lack of food cannot kill him, surely it would have made him too weak to move, after all just one hundred years in a tomb made Viktor so weak he needed hooking up to blood, in the last film, in order to function again. One would have also thought that he would have had a Hell of a cramp in his legs as well. Never mind. This, after all, was one of the main storylines of the film so we can’t be too harsh.

Quibbles aside, however, the style and action make this a most enjoyable romp and, I would say, it is marginally a better film, even if the story is slimmer, than the first. The shame is, though we see him in some flash backs, we are missing Lucian – the best character from the first film, who unfortunately died at the end of the previous instalment. The rumour is, however, that the third film will be a prequel and Lucian will be in it. There is also a lot more (traditionally) vampiric action with several bites and a lot of blood flying around. All in all I’m giving this 7.5 out of 10, for sheer style – just bear in mind that it is pretty undemanding intellectually, this is an action flick through and through.

The official site is here and has trailers and clips, plus other goodies. The imdb page is here.


dan murray said...

I am glad someone besides me was impressed by the scene where Marcus "REMEMBERS" or recalls how to use a computer, after never have seen one before. There were nice touches throughout the movie, some worked some did not but over all I enjoyed the film, different from the first but good all the same. How about looking one of my favorite films..NEAR DARK..dandanbul.orlando

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Dan, thanks for posting.

Near Dark is one of my favourites as well (other than the last 5 minutes) so I will get round to it eventually. In the meantime it is mentioned in passing in the box of blood review

Mateo said...

I didn't like it at all. In fact, I didn't even finish it. I decided about 3/4 the way through that it just wasn't worth continuing and that I didn't care what happened.

To me it was just so obsessed with it's incredibly pedestrian storyline. If they had wasted less time making a simple storyline sound complex (and if the people would show some type of emotion rather than just hard-ass) then I might have been able to enjoy it with my brain turned off. But to me the movie had far less action that a movie of that intellectual level should have.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mateo, fair comment - as I said ii the review it is pretty undemanding intellectually - but it is a case I guess of each to their own.

BTW, great to hear from you