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Underworld Evolutions

2007-08-13 10:17


For 800 years, vampires and lycans (werewolves) have been fighting a shadow war. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael, a half-breed Lycan/Vampire (Scott Speedman) are on the run, after her Vampire clan has been decimated by a double cross some 800 years in the making. On their trail is a really foul-tempered vampire elder named Marcus (Tony Curran) and a mysterious guy on a ship (Sir Derek Jacobi). Slowly, it is revealed that Marcus wants to revive his long-imprisoned Lycan brother, the original werewolf who cannot control his beastly tendencies.


The original Underworld was inevitably compared to The Matrix upon release, probably because cinemagoers were still dizzy from the impact of this new high-octane, effects-heavy style of cinema. Leather clad, machine-gun toting Kung Fu experts - hey, what's not to like?

But it was always a problematic parallel, because the Underworld concept relies far more upon the traditional gothic adventure sensibility than the hyper-real, cyberpunk-tinged fashion-fest that was The Matrix. The old castle settings, Eastern European location, and cold, wet scenes of Underworld have very little to do with quantum mechanics, mathematical probabilities and egomaniacal programmes named Smith.

So now that Matrix-fever has devolved, Underworld: Evolution brings the franchise into its own, employing a far more confident narrative to drive through its dark and damp atmosphere. If anything, Underworld sits more comfortably in Blade's cinematic paradigm, feeling a lot like a woodland version of Blade's urban tale.

Of course, the real difference between the two is the way the hero figures look in leather catsuits and corsets. One wouldn't give much for Wesley Snipes in that getup, but Kate Beckinsale essentially carries the film on looks alone. She also turns into a surprisingly sympathetic heroine - one with a perpetual scowl, admittedly, but with a sensitive side, too!

Unfortunately, Scott Speedman is still in Felicity mode as a human, and it is amusing to realise that his speech-impaired beast incarnation has more character when it's ripping out lycans' throats, than when he's anguishing about his fate as a human flesh-eater. Hamlet the vampire werewolf. On PCP.

And, as with the first film, the much-hyped-ultimate-baddie-who-makes-an-entrance-in-the-end turns out to be a hokey, inbred yahoo. You can see, during a particularly ammo-heavy, hell-for-leather fight scene, that it is deep in thought. What is it thinking? Probably: "Hey! I'm immortal! So I'm just gonna stand here and wail and gnash while that sexy Selene empties another clip into my skull. Cos there's no way she's gonna hit my brain. Wait. I have no brain. Hahahaha." Not surprisingly, this much-hyped-ultimate-baddie isn't given that much more screen time.

The moral of the story is that being a vampire (or a lycan) sucks. There's always some of other fight you're involved in with a clan of uber-monsters, or in the case of Evolution, a never-ending hierarchy of (remarkably killable) immortals hell-bent on taking over something or other.

At least in Evolution, when the crap (or the truckload of blood, guts, gore and fur) is about to hit the helicopter rotors, our heroes' eyes go all blue and eerie - so we always know something's about to happen. And, thankfully, they don't just kung-fu their way through the gang of uglies. Instead, they get ample opportunity to unload four million rounds of bullets from all manner of automatic handguns, shotguns, assault rifles and high tech explosives.

The basic idea is that this is an action movie - a violently gory, loud, jumpy and uncomplicated action horror adventure. But it gets extra points for being a pretty stylish one, with a very definite bonus for a sultry, scary, leather-and-whips type of sexiness.

- Anton Marshall

Kate Beckinsale returns to the screen as the vampire Selene who must battle the rival "lycans" for survival.

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