Having killed a feared leader in the Vampire world, "Death Dealer" Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is on the run with Michael (Scott Speedman), a hybrid Lycan/Vampire who is coming to terms with his new abilities. In the midst of the mayhem, one of the original Vampires, Marcus (Tony Curran), has been unleashed from his prison and is looking for revenge, hunting down everything in his path. Searching for answers on why Marcus has returned, Selene soon realizes she's the only one left to confront him, so she embraces her violent past as she unexpectedly evolves into something new.
"Underworld" was a sleeper hit back in 2003, simply because it took the subject matter seriously and tarted up its B-movie roots with some striking photography and genre enthusiasm. The sequel looks like it was put together in a hurry, which is odd, since the first film teased of a continuation to come. Murky, uneven, and filled with an extravagant, needless backstory that would make Tolkien double-take, "Underworld: Evolution" (IMDb listing) fails to live up to the promise the original film made.
I'm unconvinced that director Len Wiseman intended this film to be the follow-up story of the "Underworld" saga, if only because the new picture spends so much energy trying to get rid of all the old characters. This is a rickety story, alternating wildly between unbridled Lycan and Vampire action and stultifying exposition scenes, where characters basically look into the camera and explain the plot. The original film gently layered Wiseman's monster myth with modern thrills, creating a ripe fantasy world for the audience to get lost in. Maybe the 20-sided-die allure went to his head, because Wiseman has lost all sense of direction with this sequel. The elements he was once careful with, including the plot and the performances, are foggy in "Evolution," to a point where they start to become secondary to special effects and slo-mo. And when Wiseman is trying to construct a larger scope that goes beyond the simplicity of Selene's journey, the effects start to become a distraction instead of a crucial part of the experience.
Wiseman even manages to ruin a vital moment for fans of the "Underworld" series: the sex scene between Selene and Michael. Dressed up like a bad softcore Playboy video, and trotting out even more slo-mo to capture every silly moment, Wiseman effectively destroys one of the main selling points of this sequel: the consummation of the romance between the main characters.
There is a thrill in watching an actress as miniature as Beckinsale get to engage in some ruthless fight choreography, which the actress handles very well. The role is a good fit for her, with Wiseman (her real-life husband) upping her heroic moments and close-up lighting for the sequel, making her a fierce creature of almost crystalline beauty. As predicted, Beckinsale is a good focal point to have since the rest of the cast fumbles about trying to act like the repetitive script means something to them.
Having enjoyed "Underworld" so much, and hoping a lousy sequel wouldn't soil its promise, "Evolution" is a major disappointment. Wiseman plays his cards all wrong here, emphasizing the action and history instead of concentrating on the mixture of monsters and myth that seemed so effortless before. Expectedly, "Evolution" ends with a promise that future adventures await Selene. I hope Wiseman can correct the serious mistakes this sequel makes and get this franchise back on track.
Filmfodder Grade: C-