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Friday January 20, 2006
Underworld: Evolution. . . *sigh*
Ever since the Matrix films there has been a trend towards making movies more like comic books. There have always been archetypically posed scenes in films, like the hero riding into the sunset, or the lovers gazing into each others eyes. We've had "slo-mos" for a long time, too. Modern cinematography, however, has brought us the fantastically acrobatic action sequence, which then pauses and gives us what is, in essence, a comic book panel, complete with weapons flashes, lens flares, and the hero caught in mid-leap.
I think the whole reason I saw the orignal Underworld movie was so I could see some of that. The teasers promised it, and the movie delivered, for the most part. It was action eye-candy with a reasonably interesting plot.
Underworld Evolution took its time delivering those goods. I enjoyed the film, but it had loads of problems. Should you see it? Well... it's R-rated for violence, nudity, sexuality, and a couple of F-bombs. For the most part everything except the violence was patently gratuitous. I'll say this much spoiler-free: Kate Beckinsale does not need to get naked to be strikingly beautiful, but she does anyway.
You may worry that you need to have seen Underworld in order to appreciate this film. Not so! We spend several minutes re-capping for the benefit of the newbies in the crowd, and we spend what seems like an agonizingly long time at the beginning with "prequel" footage in which we see some the REAL origins of vampires and "lycans" (werewolves).
Then again, if you HAVE seen the first film, this installment may leave you confused, because the stripping away of lies that occurred in the first film proceeds apace in "Evolution," and it's twisty enough that you'll probably think that what they REALLY wanted to do was just throw out the plot of the first film and start over fresh.
That opening sequence bugged me, because the action was very choppy, at least at first. We got a few of those cool comic-book-panel shots, but not before lots of palsied, not-so-steady-cam work. And when the sequence was over, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) narrates the first film to us with a montage of footage that reminded me of nothing so much as "last week on Buffy."
And that brings me to my single biggest complaint. The "Underworld" story is wasted on cinema. It would have been far, far better as an HBO mini-series, with eight hours of character development, plot development, and actual MOTIVATION for the things the characters do and say. There's plenty of back-story, and lots of characters to develop, and even with two feature-length films it feels like we're missing 90 minutes of dialog. (Not that I would have sat for that -- I wanted to see vampires do backflips while John-Woo-ing bad doggies. I wasn't that interested in watching them TALK.)
Anyway, an example: In the first film the romantic attraction between Selene and Michael (Scott Speedman) seems justified only by "hey, we're main characters, we're of complementary gender, and look! We're both pretty!" In this film that romance gets consummated (on screen, where we see exactly how pretty both of these people are), and it STILL feels unjustified. When faced with the loss of her lover following a particularly vicious fight, Selene plucks the f-word out of the air and flings it at us as if the use of that term will somehow convince us that she really cares about this guy.
But for all this, I had a good time at the film. Sure, there were groaners throughout, including the obligatory 600-year-old lock-and-key mechanisms that move more smoothly than my garage door opener, and fuel-air explosive "grenades" the size of an altoids can that blow a 90 meter freighter out of the water, but that's half the fun, right?
One last thing -- it doesn't really feel like a vampire movie. The cool, hip, 21st-century gothic vampires of the first movie are gone. It's all gritty and dark without the cool and hip, so it's more like a post-apocalyptic mutant movie. And I guess having the word "Evolution" in the title of a post-apocalyptic mutant movie doesn't help matters any.