June 7, 2006
The first Underworld movie (2003) was a modest box office hit but enough, apparently, to spawn a sequel (2006) that continues the war that rages between vampires and werewolves. Director Len Wiseman pillaged visuals from both The Matrix and The Crow movies in the first one and this time around borrows a bit from The Lord of the Rings films in Evolution’s prologue. However, from that point on, he strikes out on his own with decent results as he manages to improve on the characters and story he created in the first film.
We pick up exactly where the last film left off with vampire Selene (Beckinsale) and hybrid Michael (Speedman) on the run having exposed a secret liaison between vampires and werewolves led by the traitorous Kraven (Brolly). Selene initially plans to awaken the last remaining elder, Marcus (Curran) in an attempt to stop Kraven but he beats her to the punch and she soon finds out that he was the least of her worries. Marcus, a winged-demonic looking vampire is intent on awakening his long-imprisoned brother William (Steele) and killing Selene as well.
Kate Beckinsale improves on her performance from the first film as the sexy, leather-clad badass vampire. She would have made an interesting silent film star as she conveys a lot about her character by a look or through her body language; executing all sorts of impressive stunts and proving more than capable in her many fight scenes. Scott Speedman, unfortunately, is again the film’s weak link but fares a bit better when he doesn’t have to speak and only has to react to what is going on around him.
Evolution’s big revelation is that the centuries-long war between vampires and werewolves was spawned by two rival brothers – Marcus and William – and a father (Jacobi) who spurned them. Sadly, dear ol’ dad is about to learn a lesson of tough love. Marcus is a cool addition and looks great in full flight with those large, leathery wings flapping menacingly as swoops in on his prey. William, once he appears, is also impressive as a giant, ferocious werewolf. Kudos to the effects teams for pulling off these fantastic looking creature effects without it looking overtly CGI.
You have to give Wiseman credit – stylistically Evolution is consistent with its predecessor. It helps that he had a hand in crafting the story (and the film’s mythos) and directed both movies while also advancing the mythology that grounds everything. He also changes settings, taking us away from the gothic European cities and into the countryside with ancient castles.
As with the first film, Wiseman doesn’t skimp on the R rated violence and gore, refusing to pander to the more lucrative PG-13 crowd (who would’ve just rented/bought the R version on DVD). He has improved upon his first film with Evolution which has a slightly more urgent tone because more is at stake. His direction is more confident and he wisely doesn’t try to drag things out, keeping the running time well under two hours. Wiseman also manages to top most of the action set pieces in the first Underworld film without overreaching himself, including a climatic fight scene that is truly satisfying. Although, I have no idea how he’ll top this one if the powers that be ask him to make it a trilogy… perhaps a prequel?
There is an audio commentary by director Len Wiseman, production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, second unit director Brad Martin and editor Nicolas De Toth. This track is production anecdote-heavy as they talk about what it was like working on a given day and the challenges of shooting on a limited budget. They point out what is CGI-enhanced while Wiseman and Tatopoulos talk about how they were able to keep costs down by shooting on location and recycling footage of sets from the first film. This is actually quite an informative track with nary a lull anywhere.
“Bloodlines: From Script to Screen” examines the origins of this movie. Wiseman had a lot of story content left over from the first film and its success allowed a sequel to further the mythos as he had envisioned it. The excitement for him doing this movie came from exploring the history of the film’s mythology.
“The Hybrid Theory” examines the film’s visual effects which are 3-4 times more than the first film. They also used miniatures, specifically the scenes with the helicopter and the boat. The result is a seamless blend of CG and practical effects.
“Making Monsters Roar” takes a look at the creature effects. The filmmakers consciously wanted to improve on the creature suits and make them more flexible so that they move more realistically and fluidly. There is even footage of how the suits work and are applied to a stunt person.
“The War Rages On” examines the stunts performed on the movie. Much more ambitious ones were planned that were faster and more aggressive than what we saw in the first Underworld movie. There is some footage of stunt people flying around on wires, rehearsing some of the film’s action sequences.
“Building a Saga” takes a look at the production design. The scale of this film was much bigger with old castles that involved a lot of building of interior sets. Wiseman consciously wanted to move away from an urban setting to more of a period piece vibe.
“Music and Mayhem” examines the sound design, the film’s score and how it enhanced the drama of the movie, manipulating how the audience felt about a given scene. The sound effects also act as a finishing touch on the visual effects, making them more believable.
Finally, there is a music video for “Her Portrait in Black” by metal band Atreyu done in the style of the film with lots of clips from it. Basically, the lead singer comes from what has been called the Cookie Monster school of vocals.