Starring Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy, and Derek Jacobi. Rated 18A.
If only vampire movies could spawn as successfully as vampires do, what a wonderful world it would be. Sadly, though, they seem to suffer from the same diminishing returns we see in every other kind of adventure-thriller flick: the more the franchise swells (think Blade), the worse each installment gets.
Like Underworld, its 2003 predecessor, Underworld: Evolution tells of an age-old battle between control-freak vampires and blood-mad werewolves (and if this all seems like some strange metaphor for the recent Liberal-Conservative tussle, well, that's one thing you can't blame on Hollywood).
The battle between vampire and "Lycan" dates back to 1202 and an unexplained schism between two brothers, "one bitten by bat, one by wolf". (Remember, get your shots.) Centuries pass as mere moments for our immortal combatants, who reach the modern age just in time to settle into complete cliché: the vampires, sporting Matrix-style trench coats and wraparound shades, live in a mansion of decaying glamour; the werewolves are all grunged up, with anger-management issues and unattractive facial hair. There's nothing we haven't seen a million times before, which is frustrating because the first Underworld left us with a brilliant cliffhanger: hunky human Michael (Scott Speedman) had been bitten by both vampire and werewolf and was becoming something”¦different.
Well, not that different, as it turns out in stuntman Danny McBride's new screenplay. Sure, Michael's eyes go black and he's super-strong, but he's still a new-age wuss, spouting lines like, "It's a lot to process all at once. I probably just need a minute to make it all fit in my head."
The real star of the film is Kate Beckinsale, who fills her role and her black-PVC bustier in an extremely well-rounded way. Sticklers may complain when she drops her accent, but surely no one can mount objections to the way she drops her outfit in one of this film's more well-developed scenes. Otherwise, it's all moody blue-black exteriors, rampant violence, video-game pacing, rampant overacting (Bill Nighy: for shame!), and unbelievable dialogue: "I have no respect for your petty sentiment," one baddie snarls. Yeah”¦
The notion of the hybrid monster, the worst of both worlds become the best of something new, is a compelling vision. The vampire who can return to God's light, the Daywalker, is the holy grail of many vampire movies, this one included. But for all its tricky cinematography and Beckinsale's pillowy acting, Evolution did nothing more than make me want to go rewatch a British vamp miniseries from 1998 called Ultraviolet-sometimes, the old stuff is the best stuff.