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Underworld: Evolution

While the first Underworld movie made about as much of an impression on me as a wrinkle on my pillowcase, I decided to see this sequel anyway, as a couple of friends of mine told me that it was a significant improvement over the first. Unlikely that this is where sequels are concerned, it does sometimes happen, so I plunked down some money and watched two hours worth of blue shit meander past my eyes.

Remind me to punch my friends when I get a spare moment.

It's Underworld: This Time, It's Personal, and the world is still monochrome, Kate Beckinsale's still hot, and the plot machinations are as murky as ever. Picking up directly after the events of the first film, Evolution introduces some more backstory to go behind the already-introduced backstory from part one, telling us of an immortal man named Alexander Corvinus and his two sons, who were bitten by a bat and a wolf (one each) and became the progenitors of the vampire and werewolf clans that would come (apparently, all that crap about trying to present an, ahem, "scientifically-based" view of the undead went out the window, not that it was ever very convincing). Werewolf son William went bugshit crazy and had to be imprisoned, over the objections of vampire son Marcus, who, despite siring all the other vampires, didn't become their leader. Fearing that Marcus, now sleeping in his crypt, will be dispatched by her nemesis Kraven the Koward, ex-werewolf hunter Selene decides he needs to be awakened for his own safety. This turns out to be unnecessary, as he awakens on his own and swiftly eliminates the asshole in question. It also turns out to maybe have been a bad plan even in concept, as Marcus swiftly tracks down Selene and assails her and her new boy-toy, the half-werewolf, half vampire Michael, for reasons that will eventually become what passes for apparent.

As the film begins, we see Michael adjusting to his new life as a mixed-breed freak, and handling it better than perhaps most of us, if not perfectly well. Warned that he can no longer process normal food and that shunning his new blood diet will eventually bring out the murderous monster in him, he nevertheless tries to carry on as if things were still as they used to be and is nearly pinched by unknown assailants when he starts to bug out in a crowded bar. This first-act development seems to be in service of convincing the viewer that the film they are about to watch has anything to do with Michael whatsoever, when in fact the only thing he ever contributes subsequently is beating up things that need to be beaten up. Indeed, he's gone from the screen for around half an hour in the last act and the film doesn't really miss him at all; I don't know if it's the fault of actor Scott Speedman or of the writers, but the character is about as charismatic as a doorknob, and is just hanging around after a film that was about him to basically sightsee in one that isn't. His big romantic interlude with Selene comes about twenty minutes in, and despite a last-act attempt to interject some dramatic development between them, he might as well have just left for the moon after that point. The subsequent stab at involving him fails because on the one hand, I never believed it was a real dilemma, and on the other hand I wasn't emotionally invested enough to care if it was or not.

I don't either like or dislike vampire movies as a rule; I judge them on the basis of their storytelling strengths. The problem with this film is that it's like a skeleton with no meat on it; it's not a story, it's just a structure. Throughout the viewing I found myself wondering on little, nit-picky things, like why the first part of Selene's body to start burning when the sunlight hits her is an area obscured by clothing. If an opaque leather glove doesn't protect her, why is a wall or ceiling any better? Does it really matter to the overall film? It shouldn't, and wouldn't in a film that was actively capturing my interest, but in something this flat it just sticks out. Marcus, for example, is a really cool-looking vampire as such things go, and on paper the idea of such an evil killing machine who is driven by an unswerving devotion to his brother sounds compelling. It fails to be because we never see any real evidence of it; the brothers never interact on-screen to show their love for one another, even during the flashback scenes, and with only Marcus' say-so to go on, it just has no emotional impact. When it's all over, it feels like "Well, that was a film about some stuff happening. And it was blue." Maybe I'm being greedy, but you've got to give me a little more.

Although, as this film had no scenes of a bunch of rich, fashion-model-esque vampires at a dance, maybe it really was an improvement, if a mild one.

-review by Matt Murray

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