It’s pretty much a law of storytelling that drama is driven by conflict of some sort, even when it’s not violent, physical, or even particularly angry. Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Self, the gist of those kinds. So, people should want things that conflict with another person’s wants somehow and so on and so forth. Yet the Underworld franchise comes across to me as a story of problems that would probably be so very easily wrapped up if the characters were not all just assholes for the sake of being assholes. The whole mythos of the trilogy is little more than a cover for the fact that certain people hate other people hard enough to try to murder one another and it wasn’t something that was as obvious to me in the 2003 starter Underworld as it was halfway through its 2006 sequel Underworld: Evolution.
The assholery is begins with Evolution‘s prologue. After a title scroll that explains how the Corvinus line became involved with the everlong war between vampires and werewolf Lycans – brothers Markus (Tony Curran) and William (Brian Steele) were bit by a bat and a wolf, respectively and became amongst the most powerful of their kind – we are introduced to a scene in the 1200s where Markus and fellow vampire Elders Viktor and Amelia (Bill Nighy and Zita Gorog reprising their roles in brief cameos; Nighy is the only one who gets to make a huge impression) capture William after he rampages through a village. The capture is in some vague manner that upsets Markus (he seems angry about their intent to “harm” William, but they’re imprisoning William like they all planned). In any case, asshole move #1 is performed.
Following all of that, we’re back to the present day with vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Corvinus descendant vampire-werewolf hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman) are in hiding after killing Viktor in the previous movie (asshole move #2, being spurred by asshole move #3 – Viktor’s massacring of Selene’s family against her knowledge). With Viktor and Amelia both killed by the events of the previous film, Selene seeks to implore the assumed-dormant Markus’ favor somehow by rescuing him from the now-openly-trecherous Kraven (Shane Brolly). Which, by the way, opens up a big question: If Selene found out Michael’s last name to be Corvin and Markus is well enough known amongst the vampires as a leader, why the hell does it take her such a long movie as the previous Underworld to figure out Michael’s ties to the vampires and Lycans?
But anyway Underworld had its time to be hated on, now it’s Underworld: Evolution‘s turn.
Markus doesn’t need Selene’s aid. He’s already been awakened, dispatches Kraven violently with more flat video-game CGI, and now outwardly seeks Selene to specifically kill her for matters he deliberately keeps coy about (asshole move #4) which means after running to reach Markus, Selene and Michael are running away from the heavily overpowered, largely made-up or CGI’d Markus (especially when he’s in huge bat form). With Selene’s final chance to get out of the vampires’ bad side ruined, she and Michael rush to find out what Markus’ hang-up with Selene is and what that has to do with his plot to free William.
This involves digging – and by digging we mean find an exposition machine of a character, Andreas Tanis (Steven Mackintosh), who explains the Corvinus lineage followed by the unsurprising revelation that an immortal with a SWAT team in his pocket (because vampires vs. werewolves + supergoth = gunfights!) is in fact the first of the Corvinus line, Alexander (poor Derek Jacobi, who is the only person in the world I’d say was better off working with Kenneth Branagh). I feel like stating there’s no consequence to these revelations is a severe understatement, the primary players are the only true non-human element to the film and despite the movie being a gigantic Corvinus family reunion, there is no reaction to Michael’s involvement in the line (in fact, his involvement in the story is obscenely arbitrary to the point that he’s dispatched from the plot in the middle of the film until the climax where we need two fights going on at once).
The only real development comes from Selene’s family and why they were murdered (and Markus desires her blood – which could be accomplished without murder as has been established in the series) and still it muddles an already muddled-up mythology (not to mention what it does to vampire mythology on its final beat). None of the characters are anymore than functionary and have no emotional reaction to a plot that requires their emotions except for Curran and the man is too caked-up in makeup to do much. The permanently-scowling Beckinsale and non-entity Speedman are involved in one of the inadvertently coldest sex scenes I’ve ever witnessed because of how little the film’s blue and grey palette (more appropriate in Evolution’s wintery setting than in the previous film) and their writing affords them, though I’d never trust Speedman to play even drying paint.
It’s a sequel that exists for the sake of a sequel rather than any real narrative or character investment with nothing for the audience to hang on to and embarrassingly outdated visuals. Its leaves no room for fun in its grave tone and no real interest except as an obligation to someone who would be watching and writing about these films simply because the latest entry began 2017.