Displaying a notion that complexity must automatically equal a better film, "Underworld: Evolution" attempts to render itself and its characters in a "shades of gray" manner. However, what the film ends up being isn't necessarily complex but frustrating and convoluted. Attempting to create intricate back stories, deeper characters and a more epic world what the filmmaker's actually achieve are visuals that are more intense than the first but little substance even in this popcorn flavored effort. Overall, the result is confusing and sometimes maddening when being simpler could have served "Underworld: Evolution" much better.
The movie begins with a prelude explaining the origins of the war between the Lycans and the Death Dealers. In a flashy spectacle of medieval mayhem, we glimpse vampire Marcus Corvinus (Tony Curran) and his allegiance to Viktor (Bill Nighy), who's army they employ to battle the werewolf menace, which all started by William Corvinus (Brian Steele), Marcus' brother. It's explained that the Corvinus bloodline is one that stems from an immortal lineage, their father, Alexander (Derek Jacobi), being one of the first.
While it starts well enough the rest of the film becomes unclear rather quickly. The story picks up immediately after the events of the first movie. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) has committed a great offense in killing Viktor and defending the vampire/werewolf hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman). They're both on the run because Selene expects there will be a reckoning from her people, out for revenge over her actions. Her only hope, at the beginning of the film, is to plead with a reawakened Marcus. Marcus, however, is none too pleased when he discovers what Selene has done. It's never made fully clear why he wants her dead, even though the blood memories he collects reveal the whole truth to him, including Kraven's treachery, a greater offense against the coven.
In their first battle with Marcus, Michael tells Selene that he can sense Marcus is different, that he is a hybrid. This idea is never fully explained. Is he a hybrid like Michael? Is he something else? Why does he want Michael and Selene dead so badly? Many questions like this are posed throughout the film and while we do get some answers, they are never convincing enough or come through in a lazy manner. Selene's family's ties to the Death Dealers is an interesting back story but could have been richer and better developed, which is the case with much of the film.
Beckinsale does a great job slinking around in her black leather warrior garb and doing away with her Lycan enemies in sometimes exciting action sequences. She works quite well in this role but it offers her little else than the aforementioned display of wetwork skills. The action scenes are at least visceral enough to be enjoyable in a mindless fun kind of way. The plotting doesn't do much to pique any interest in any of the leads outside of the action scenes, resulting in little care for what happens in the 106 minute running time.
Still, Wiseman employs some slick visuals in telling his film, expanding on the gothic tone of the first film and nicely blending the horror, action, sci-fi elements together. From the opening scenes to the climactic battle, his aesthetic is very much geared towards an action aficionado's delight; he just needs material that is better developed.
The film is presented in a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film looks great. There is no wear or damage of any kind. Darks are deep and rich, colors come across well and the image is as crisp and clean as you could hope for. There is no pixilation or blurring present anywhere. To say the least, the blood, guts and gore really "shine" and the film's visual tone is presented quite excellently.
Audio is presented in both English and French Dolby Digital 5.1. The 5.1 mix is solid, action scenes, music and ambient noises fill the surrounds nicely. Dialogue is crisp and clean with no distortion. English and French subtitles are also included.
There are a fair amount of extras presented on this disc. The first is an audio commentary featuring writer-director Len Wiseman, production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, 2nd unit director Brad Martin, and editor Nicolas De Toth. The commentary is decent with the filmmaker's focusing on the various aspect of the making of the film, pointing out miniatures versus digital effects. There is a great sense of camaraderie between all of them as Wiseman leads them through the commentary track.
"Bloodlines: From Script to Screen" is roughly 13 minutes that explore the gestation of the second film's script and story and features various filmmaker's thoughts on the sequel. "The Hybrid Theory" takes a look at both the digital and practical effects of the film and runs almost 13 minutes. The mini doc is very interesting, with the different effects teams revealing the various tricks they used for the film. "Making Monsters Roar" is a 12 minute glance at the creature work done for the film. "The War Rages On" is a 10 minute look at the stunt work. "Building a Saga" is nearly 13 minutes of production design and locations discussion. "Music and Mayhem" is an 11 minute look at the film's sound design and music. The featurettes offer up a fair amount of information and run just over an hour. There is definite love for the project and it shows in these featurettes but they could have easily spent a few more minutes on each subject exploring each facet a little more.
Also included in the extras is a music video by Atreyu for "Her Portrait in Black", and a slew of previews for other releases; "When a Stranger Calls", "Ultraviolet", "London", "Click", "Underworld", "Hostel", "The Boondocks", "Marie Antoinette", and quite a few other films.
Unless you're a fan of the first film, which I enjoyed, I can't really recommend "Underworld: Evolution". While the action sequences are the kind of fun, mindless entertainment that you'd expect from this kind of film, the rest of the movie struggles to achieve this same level of amusement. Then again who needs a story in this kind of film? Well, in order to at least be effective a film needs, at the very least, a somewhat gripping through line; "Underworld: Evolution" doesn't have this. At best it's an exercise in style over substance; the worst part is, is that it could have been a ton more fun than it actually ends up being.