Dir. Len Wiseman, 2006, US, 100 mins
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Tony Curran, Steven Mackintosh, Derek Jacobi
Blade 2, X-Men 2, Spider-Man 2, you may not agree with the sequel philosophy but at least you’re guaranteed one thing, it’ll be bigger; bigger budget, bigger fights, bigger things being blown-up. However, director Len Wiseman seems to have ignored this rule and made up his own whereby if it isn’t broken don’t fix it, in fact, if you’re feeling particularly lazy, just reuse the first movie. Taking the characters, costumes, weapons, even the sets Evolution grows the Underworld universe as convincingly as painting stripes on a horse and calling it a zebra. Wiseman hasn’t gone for a sequel, after the first film’s surprise box office secured him not one but two more instalments he’s already eying the final part of the trilogy, this is its prologue.
Evolution takes place directly after the original movie and if you’re having trouble recalling what took place 3 years ago then rest assured because the audience is reminded with jarring flashbacks throughout the first act to get those not familiar with vampire versus werewolf action up to speed. Vampire death-dealer Selene (Beckinsale) and lycan hybrid Michael (Speedman) are now on the run and must come to terms with who they are and face the true history behind each of their bloodlines. Handily it all goes back to a pair of twins, one bitten by a wolf, the other, Marcus (Curran), by a bat. Now free, Marcus seeks out his imprisoned brother so they can generally wreak havoc and take over the world. With Selene holding the key it’s not going to be an easy job, especially when there’s lot of guns around.
Why all this bloodline curiosity matters is arbitrary when Wiseman has taken his characters out of any sort of reality that anchored the original story. Previously, the human race was part of the world, caught in the middle of two warring factions and Michael was the audience’s fear of being dragged into it. In Evolution the pair stomp silently through snowy wastelands, the occasional scrap taking place in watery underground sets worryingly reminiscent of the first film’s climax. The one thing it’s got going for it is that it is shot impeccably and Wiseman has a knack for slick gunplay that doesn’t hide in the dark; the film’s opening medieval fire and axes bone-cruncher marks a breathless start. But the director’s gotten too wrapped up in his own mythology as Marcus follows the trail to his ancestors with the tiresome habit of stapling would-be informers to the nearest wall. It’s akin to reading The Silmarillion, Tolkien’s weighty and complex prologue to Lord of the Rings but without the knowledge it’s leading up to something epic, just the one-on-one smackdowns the entire story is geared towards.
With Beckinsale (now Wiseman’s wife) and Speedman returning as the leads fans at least would be hoping for their romance to finally ignite. It’s true that Selene finally does peel away those skin-tight leathers but apart from standing around with their shirts off the pair have less to do than a deodorant advert. Nothing is made of Michael’s new hybrid status save rabidly running round like a cross between an Alsatian and The Hulk. Have we missed something or have they really been married for 40 years and have nothing left to talk about?
Where films such as Night Watch have pushed the ‘the monsters are among us’ horror genre to extremes Wiseman coasts on vapour trails left by an unexpected hit. With the Underworld look being incredibly dated after The Matrix implosion, black leather and twin-handguns just aren’t enough anymore and with this interlude supposedly keeping the franchise in the air Wiseman’s got a long way to fall.
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