Kate Beckinsale’s tight leather pants can’t save sequel

Underworld: Evolution
Screen Gems Inc./Lakeshore
Entertainment 2006
Starring Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Bill Nighy
Directed by Len Wiseman
Written by Danny McBride and Len Wiseman
Rated R, 105 min.
Action/fantasy/horror

The first “Underworld” installment in 2003 was a bad movie. The film’s premise, which focused on a raging war between vampires and werewolves, seemed to hold infinite promise; unfortunately, the movie was flat and boring. The sequel, “Underworld: Evolution,” isn’t a whole lot better. There is a crucial difference that makes it a little bit more engaging, though. While the first featured an almost unwatchable story between boring and uninspired actions scenes, “Evolution” has stepped it up a notch, and boasts a boring and uninspired story between pretty cool action scenes. Luckily, this time around, the whole thing is watchable.

Evolution picks up where the original left off; vampiress warrior Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is on the run with her half-werewolf, half-vampire boyfriend Michael (Scott Speedman), who she inexplicably fell in love with in the first movie. She has recently killed an important vampire elder named Viktor (Bill Nighy) and unwittingly unleashed original vamp Marcus (Tony Curran) from his vampiric slumber. In the first film all the other vampires betrayed her, and in “Evolution” they’re all hunting her and Michael. The actual plot of the movie sort of makes sense, but is clogged with bizarre lore and exposition from the first movie. Basically the weird lovers cruise around trying to find the first werewolf before his brother Marcus _” the first vampire _” finds him and causes something bad to happen. All the while they are pursued by Marcus, the other vampires, and occasional werewolves that jump out at them.

This film gets the action right, by and large. The original was filled with actions sequences that were so choppy that it was hard to tell what was going on. Director Len Wiseman seems to have a better command of such things now. The action scenes in “Evolution” are consistently cool and can elicit excited oohs and aahs from the audience. Baddie Marcus has big bat wings that also double as stabbing appendages, which he uses in extremely innovative ways.

“Evolution” does hang together, but fails for two reasons. The first is the characters. They are flatter than I’m willing to forgive, even in a movie about vampires battling werewolves. It helps slightly that Selene and Michael’s love has already been established when this movie opens, which saves screenwriters Danny McBride and Len Wiseman from having to fumble their way through a romantic subplot. Ultimately, there are no character-driven subplots of any kind, and nothing to differentiate the characters from any other character we’ve ever seen. The closest the movie comes to having interesting character development is Marcus, who wants to reconcile with his brother even though his brother is an insane werewolf. Aside from that, all we’re really given is their race (vampire, werewolf, or hybrid) and their goal.

The other problem with the film’s story is that it occasionally shifts to events that either don’t make sense or are poorly explained. Even within the crazy world of vampires and werewolves, there need to be some rules. There don’t appear to be any here. Marcus is described as being the first vampire, but he’s got bat wings and looks different than all the other vampires. This is half-explained when a character refers to him as a hybrid, but a hybrid of vampire and what? Werewolf? So where’s the wolfy side? Why doesn’t hybrid Michael get bat wings? Blood drinking is sort of a catchall plot device, as well. Marcus can drink blood to see the memory of his victim, Selene can drink blood and get weird powers, Michael can drink Selene’s blood and get healed. If there are limits on what blood drinking can do in this world, it’s hard to tell what they are. And never mind the part where a character returns from the dead for almost no reason. When storytellers play fast and loose with the rules of their altered reality it makes it almost impossible to build any kind of dramatic tension because just about anything can happen.

When a movie dealing with something as crazy as vampires and werewolves at war comes around, I want to be able to enjoy it on every level. I want to like the characters, I want a fascinating story, and I want exciting action. It’s possible, but rarely accomplished with this type of movie. Underworld: Evolution got the action right, but felt totally wrong in other areas. This was enough to keep me awake, however, and I left the theater feeling like I hadn’t completely wasted my time. That’s far more than can be said for the original.