Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Adam gets all gothic on Underworld: Evolution
You know, I wasn't the biggest fan of the movie Underworld. I didn't dislike it actively. I just didn't really appreciate it with the verve that I tend to with movies I enjoy. Kate Beckinsale is rarely anything but amazing to look at, and putting her in black vinyl and leather was a special effect unto itself.
Storywise, whatever weaknesses the original had are mostly taken care of. You get quite a lot of explanation of who the characters in the first movie really were and what was truly going on. There's now a logical reason why Viktor (Bill Nighy, who stole Love, Actually from pretty much everyone in the cast and who was yet another bright spot in the greatness that was Shaun of the Dead) kept Beckinsale's Selene around. There's a reason why the House of Corvinus was so important, and why the allegiance of Michael Corvin, the last human descendent of the bloodline, was so crucial.
After a short prologue that shows the true beginning of the vampire/lycan feud (before the incident with Lucian) and gives more background on the three vampire Elders from the first movie (Nighy's Viktor, Zita Gorog's Amelia and Tony Curran's Marcus), the story picks up almost right where the original left off. Selene and Michael (XXX2's Scott Speedman) trying to figure out their next move after the death of Viktor. Kraven (Shane Brolly) isn't as dead as you thought he was in the first movie (he IS a vampire after all), and is marshalling his forces to destroy Michael and Selene before they can reveal the truth about him.
Selene wants to appeal to the last of the Elders to explain Viktor's betrayal and Kraven's coup, and to hopefully spare the life of Michael. Kraven thinks to destroy the final Elder and cement his position as the king of the vampires.
Marcus has other ideas. If you remember the end of the first movie, Marcus was awakened by the death of one of Kraven's henchmen above him. As in the first movie, the vampires absorb the memories and life experience of their victims through their blood. So, Marcus already knows about Kraven's plans.
Marcus was never really aligned with Viktor or Amelia. Being the first vampire, the other two elders kept him around because he'd deceived them into thinking that his entire bloodline would be destroyed if he were slain. He remained docile, though since the other two had imprisoned his twin brother William (Brian Steele, who seems to do a lot of suit-work -- he's played creatures in over a dozen movies and TV series, including Hellboy, Doom and the original Underworld), the first of the lycans.
William was something both more and less than the lycans from the original movie. He's stronger and faster, of course, being the first of his species. However, he's given to mindless savagery and he's unable to transform himself into a human appearance unlike his descendents. William was captured and imprisoned by Viktor and Amelia 300 years ago and Marcus will do anything to learn where his brother is held.
To say that Kraven doesn't last long in the movie is an understatement. Marcus whups his keister good and does the drinkie-drinkie bit on him to get some more memories before he sets off on his quest to set his brother free.
There's another new player in the game, too. A group of commandos led by a mystery man (Derek Jacobi) who travels via a private ship. The commandos retrieve the bodies of Viktor, Amelia and Lucian and neutralize the witnesses to the combat between the lycans and the vampires without killing them (How? They don't say, but the one group you see that gets similar treatment looks drugged when they wake back up). The commandos, and their leader, have a key part in the mythology of the series.
All three antagonists converge on each other, since each has pieces of each others' puzzles. Asses are kicked, alliances are made, agendas are pursued and everyone gets craft services.
I was absolutely sure the movie was a PG-13 going in (it's not -- it's an R), so color me surprised at the amount of brutality to the violence in the movie. The first Underworld was much more balletic in its combat (riding the wire fu wave at the time of its release). This one relies on speed and brute force. Marcus is a force of nature, using his hybrid bat-form as a weapon. Selene has to go hand-to-hand more than she gets to shoot guns. And Michael tears loose a little bit, fulfilling the merest bit of the potential they keep paying lip service to. Watching him rip into the "guard dogs" at Tanis' prison ain't pretty. And it convinces me that director Len Weisman might have the stones to do a Wolverine solo movie, should said project actually come to pass.
Speaking of Weisman, it plays to Kate Beckinsale's favor that her husband shot this movie. The camera plays over her lovingly, like Weisman's own eyes. She gets all the glamor shots, of course. But, who really wants to look at Scott Speedman (And all you womenfolk can just shut the heck up -- I mean it. Don't make me get the whompin' stick.)?
Beckinsale's nice to look at, and holds her own in the fights better this time around. I wasn't really looking for high dramatics from her (Let's face's not that type of movie), but she's not bad. And, as said before...mmmmm, she's nice to look at.
Speedman puts in a slightly better performance this time around, less frightened and more confident (which Michael needs to be). Also, not gonna win any awards, but more than passable.
Derek Jacobi? Well, he's not at his Shakespearean best, but he's a much-appreciated touch of class. With so many of his colleagues from the Royal Shakespeare company getting work in fantasy and sci-fi (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Kenneth Brannagh, etc), it's always nice to have great stage actors to prop up a movie just a bit more.
Tony Curran? Well, he's got a bit more vampirin' to do than he did in Blade 2 (He was Priest, the first member of the Blood Pack to fall in battle). He was one of the few tolerable things about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (though you couldn't see him -- he was the Invisible Man), and he was even pretty decent as Rodney in 2004's Flight of the Phoenix. Most movies pass or fail based on their villains, and the ever-so-slightly beefed up Curran pulls off Marcus with equal parts sadistic glee and genuine concern for his twin. Looking at IMDB, I see he's in Miami Vice, and I'm wondering what Michael Mann has made of him.
There's some weaknesses in Underworld: Evolution. It's by no means a perfect movie. If you hated the whole pseudo-goth culture of the first movie, you're not gonna appreciate the sequel. But, that's a given. And, the CGI isn't much improved over the first movie, aside from the lycans now having CG hair. I mean, who heard of bald werewolves? But, that's even sorta explained in the sequel (the modern lycans can "control their rage" and retain human characteristics -- like not needing a case of Nair a day). The transformations are deliberately jerky to make the special effects more palateable, and maybe even to make them seem slightly old school. However, whenever the camera lingers on an animated figure (like the flying Bat-Marcus), the deficiencies in the effects become glaringly apparent. You can accept it and move on, or you can nitpick and hate on it. Makes no difference to me.
As far as the conclusion of the movie, they can either end the story here or go on and make more movies. There's a solid ending to the series, if they so choose. There's also the opportunity for continuation. Oddly, I'm now a little more eager to see if this franchise has legs.
Fact is, Underworld: Evolution made me appreciate the original more. I still can't say that the movie rocked my little world, but dammit, I enjoy it more now because of the sequel. I was pleasantly surprised that a sequel made me like the original a bit more. If they can do that again with another, then by all means, let's make this a trilogy. Or a quadrilogy. Heck, they might actually get the CG down somewhere along the line.

1 comment:

dan murray said...

I agree with your review--i enjyed this movie and the original--and after seeing the first one I appreciated the style and story even more---critics be damned--this is just a good romance-action -goth-vampire-movie with heart and KATE--really waiting for the third one --right now in two weeks the pull is at 45 million-dandanbul.blogsport