I went to see Underworld Evolution tonight. I'm a fan of the original Underworld. It was a movie made on relatively small budget of $22 million, tiny in today's movie industry. Yet was all the better for it. Granted the concept behind the movie was better than the actual movie. The idea of an 800 year old war between vampires and werewolves was great, though I'm sure someone could tell me they have ripped off other franchises like Masquerade. Also I liked the idea that the vampires while still super strong were no match for the werewolves physically and had to resort to special forces type armor and weapons to redress the imbalance. Finally it had Kate Beckinsale in it and I think she is easily one of the most beautiful women in the world.
I was worried about the new movie. Sequels to low budget movies can easily fall into the trap of packing in enough special effects for both movies and forgetting what made the original good. For example take The Chronicles of Riddick. Chronicles was the sequel to Pitch Black a low budget movie made in the Australian desert. Chronicles was a big budget sequel packed with special effects and set piece battles but still proof that extra money does not necessarily make a better movie. Pitch Black was far more interesting and original. Chronicles was just a poor version of Conan the Barbarian in space.
The makers of Underworld evolution did not make the same mistake. In fact they seem to have gone out of their way to make the movie look and feel the same as the original. The budget for this one was $48 million, more than double the original but compare that with King Kong at $207 million and Superman Returns at $300 million. Everything has the same dark look with a tinge of nighttime blue.
This movie picks up exactly where the first left off. All the bodies are still lying where they fell. The survivors are regrouping and getting more weapons or running for their lives. That said this one is different. There are fewer vampires for a start, and probably fewer actors. A third faction, which seems to be human have taken the place of the vampires, who were mostly killed off in the first movie anyway. The action focuses on a smaller number of characters, with the emphasis on Selene, Michael and a new character, Marcus. Other characters come and go but don't spend nearly as much time on screen.
The start of the movie is set in 1202AD with a battle between vampires and werevolves. The vampires look like dark elven knights from Lord of the Rings. I think there is great potential for a prequel story covering this period of time. Another nice idea is that when dealing with vampires and werewolves the human dead don't stay dead for too long so when fighting its best to get things over with quickly. There are some plot holes and unexplained gaps in time, but hey, this is a movie about vampires fighting werewolves so don't go to it expecting a deep and intellectually challenging experience.
Kate Beckinsale is quite good in the role as Selene, the Deathdealer, and she looks stunning in her leather outfit. You can believe her in an action role, better than the likes of Angelina Jolie. In some scenes her character could have come straight from The Matrix.
If you didn't like the original there is nothing new here to turn you to the vampire or lycan side. If you liked the original then you'll like the new one. I cant help but feel there is another sequel in the franchise, though it is not as clearly signposted as this one was.
Over all 3 1/2 out of 5 but still an entertaining way to pass the evening.
Update: Underworld Evolution is top of the box office in the US, taking $27.6 million. Not bad for a movie that cost $48 million, and almost certain to guarantee Underworld 3
By the way here is a web site which discusses the special effects, and has concept drawings for things in the opening battle I mentioned above.