In the aftermath of the death of vampire lord Viktor (Bill Nighy), vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman) go on the run from the revived super-vampire Markus (Tony Curran) – who is on a quest to release his long-imprisoned werewolf brother William.
Underworld (2003) was a deeply mediocre genre piece that cribbed liberally from the World of Darkness role-playing system while stealing its aesthetic from literally every goth or fetish-based film of the preceding decade-and-a-half. It was a moderate commercial hit, however, and did not cost too much to produce, and so it is unsurprising that three years later director Len Wiseman returning with the sequel: Underworld: Evolution.
There is a lot in Evolution that could honestly pass without much comment, since it follows so faithfully behind the original film. Everything is still uniformly lit in a ridiculous shade of blue. British actors continue to dominate the cast, since ‘posh English’ remains the most efficient short-hand for ‘ancient and evil’. The plot remains a rambling nonsense of ancient evil, clan rivalries, and hidden history. Essentially everything fans of Underworld experienced in the first film is revisited in the second. This could in all be the sum total of this review: more of the same, and still reasonably underwhelming.
If we were to discuss the varying degrees of mediocrity, however, we could observe how in terms of action choreography, visual effects, and photography Evolution is somewhat better than the original Underworld. There is some rather nice creature design by Patrick Tatopoulos, particularly in terms of Markus’ fully vampiric form which honours past vampire films while still finding its own distinctive look.
There are some rather good performances among the cast as well. New co-stars Tony Curran and Derek Jacobi are both surprisingly restrained, avoiding the ‘slumming-it’ scenery chewing that British actors often provide to these sorts of films. Jacobi in particular adds a nice sense of gravitas and dignity to his role, and as such marks one of his finer genre-based performances. Kate Beckinsale continues to play Selene with an unnecessary level of seriousness for such a pulpy confection, but in all fairness it is a take she makes work.
Characters continue to be clad in a variety of fetishistic clubwear, with Selene again wearing her head-to-toe combination of vinyl and latex rubber as if it is a required uniform. A bizarre amount of time is spent with Selene half-immersed in water – which has the effect of making her scenes feel like someone’s specific sexual fetish. It is strange, then, that when the film comes to an actual sex scene it seems as chaste as it is unnecessary.
Audiences that responded positively to Underworld should be satisfied with Evolution, since in the tradition of all good sequels it offers a closely similar experience with some extra changes or material. It is a slightly less mediocre treatment of the material. Still and all, if you are watching Evolution over most other available screen entertainment – and you are not planning an online film review to score the website hits – what are you actually doing with your free time?