Perhaps the genre of joyously absurd action films isn’t dead quite yet. Underworld: Evolution borders on taking itself too seriously from a narrative standpoint, but the marriage of a complete disregard for science as we know it and kooky overacting by Bill Nighy saves the film from a grisly F-grade demise. Whether or not the film’s action scenes intend to elicit laughter I cannot positively say, but they do, and it’s actually refreshing.
The story, which couldn’t be more inconsequential if it tried, goes something like this: The war between the Death Dealers (vampires) and the Lycans (werewolves), established in 2003’s Underworld, is still going strong. Selene (Beckinsale) and Michael Corvin (Speedman), a human-Lycan hybrid, are working together to trace their ancestry. The job is not easy as they face various foes, namely Viktor (Nighy), the father of modern vampires, and Marcus (Curran) and William (Brian Steele), two brothers whose father, Alexander Corvinus (Derek Jacobi), started the war 800 years ago. Splatter gore and completely implausible action ensues.
Director Len Wiseman keeps things moving at a breakneck pace, but even at that the film is far too long at 105 minutes. The action scenes are frequent and contain gore-a-plenty, but Wiseman nearly ruins several of the set pieces with trendy, frenetic editing that feels old and stale at this point. Lucky for us these scenes are so preposterous that all one can do is laugh and have a good time. I’ve never seen so many people (and wolves) thrown into stone walls for no reason other than it looks and sounds cool. The demise of a key villain in the climactic sequence is foreshadowed to the point of parody, but the payoff is still a gruesome delight.
But Danny McBride’s script is a disaster area. The story makes very little sense and is simply a placeholder for the aforementioned action sequences. The dialogue is a step up from that of Aeon Flux, but that’s not saying much. There’s an abundance of flashbacks, all shown with an annoying stop-motion filter, that only come across as bewildering to follow. Clichés run rampant and some of these lines sound like they’d be more at home in an Uwe Boll film, but at least the end result is further camp value.
Kate Beckinsale plays your standard shapely, stone-faced female action hero. Decked out in a tight leather getup and bright blue contact lenses, Wiseman surprisingly doesn’t make her figure the centerpiece of the film. She certainly has better screen presence than other People Magazine darlings, but she’s no Milla Jovovich when it comes to female action heroes. The supporting cast should all receive “Free Hoggy’s For Life” cards for hamming it up this much, with Nighy leading the way is what could be considered the new gold standard for future good actors considering appearing in bad movies.
Underworld fans will likely come away pleased with this installment, even if it does suffer from the symptoms of nearly all sequels. But the special effects are solid and blood flows freely. The film is so silly that newcomers will even enjoy some guilty pleasure laughs. Evolution is certainly a bad film, but at least it revels in its badness with a sly smile.
Studio: Screen Gems
Length: 105 Minutes
Rating: R for pervasive strong violence and gore, some sexuality/nudity and language.
Theatrical Release: January 20, 2006
Directed by: Len Wiseman
Written by: Danny McBride. Story by Len Wiseman & McBride. Characters created by Kevin Grevioux & Wiseman & McBride.
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy, Shane Brolly, Michael Sheen, Tony Curran