I wrote my college thesis on the postmodern influences in the Underworld film series...
...While it took some convincing with my film professor—he didn’t think I could possibly relate these films in such a way—I not only proved him wrong; I got an A+. I think it’s safe to say I am a devout fan of the Underworld films. Director Len Wiseman and writers Danny McBride and Kevin Grevioux created a deep mythology with their film franchise and, as a fan of all things horror, it checks all my boxes, as if it was created just to suit my tastes. That’s how you know you’ve found some of your favorite films. After a successful debut, fans clamored for a sequel. I can remember how excited I was to see Underworld Evolution (2006). I was 16 and my laptop had the official movie wallpaper. I was and still am “that” kind of nerd. Marking its 15th anniversary this month, Underworld Evolution remains a film I would proudly put on my desktop wallpaper today.
Making a sequel in this particular genre of film means there’s always a lot to live up to. The first film in a franchise is essentially making a promise to consistently deliver in subsequent entries on the cool stuff the first film sets up. Underworld Evolution is not the best film in the series, but it is the most fun in terms of world-building and fleshing out the mythology that was teased prior. One of the biggest additions was the explanation of the family lineage in both the Vampires and Lycans. It’s the first time the series took us back several centuries (something that plays a major role in the third entry) and it shows Viktor (Bill Nighy) in his prime. We learn some of the history of the everlasting feud and get introduced to several new characters that would play a larger role in films to come. It gives us information that prompts a rewatch of the first film. For example, most of what we learn about Viktor here reinforces his motivations in the first film and makes his character more interesting. It might not be remembered as the best of the franchise, but it gave us a lot of things that became staples of the series.
Aside from actual story beats being expanded upon, the sequel also gave us some of the most memorable set pieces in the entire series. The Corvinus base of operations is a truly remarkable set in both scale and artistic tastefulness. You have the exterior, which is a military bay, fully stocked with helipads and men on patrol. The interior is nautical by design but with vampiric grandness with large pieces of furniture and thrones. Of course, it’s a set that gets completely destroyed, but all good sets do. The end set piece with the crashing chopper is a true standout moment in the series. We see full body dismemberment from the chopper blades and Selene (Kate Beckinsale) gets a touch up haircut. An impressive number of models were used in this scene and the film as a whole. It’s worth remembering that at the time of its 2006 release it was common for action-heavy films to rely completely on computer-generated effects. To see Wiseman, who I believe to be an underrated director, using so many practical based effects is extremely impressive. It was something I was glad to see carry over from the first film. Production designer Patrick Tatopoulos and set decorator Lin MacDonald have really outdone themselves and do a great job of keeping the world and tone of Underworld consistent. Tatopoulos himself took the helm as creature designer. The Lycans and their transformations look fantastic, blending stop motion, CGI, and of course makeup and prosthetics. Again, this is 2006. Dumping money on high quality creature effects and practical gags was not commonplace. Using a fusion of methods to sell their effects was done on Len’s insistence. Evolution also introduced Hybrids, an idea that would continue into the franchise’s future films. The Hybrids are a real attraction in the film, and, from a creature feature fanboy perspective, they did a phenomenal job realizing their vision. During the truck near the cliff scene, they deploy all the stops to make Marcus (Tony Curran) work. Using wires to suspend him above the truck, CGI for the wide shots, wing prosthetics, and a half a day’s worth of makeup application, the scene ends up being an excellent representation of the craftsmanship that went into making the film.
One of my few criticisms of Underworld Evolution is also one of the reasons I don’t skip it when doing a marathon. While it expands on the mythology greatly, it simultaneously overcomplicates things with the plot. This happens in all the Underworld films to some extent, but it’s most prevalent here. It suffers the same problem a movie like Spiderman 3 (2007) has; they’re trying to shove as much as they can into one movie, without recognizing how it clogs up the pacing. Spiderman 3 had too many villains and Evolution has too many plot contrivances. I don’t think the story is particularly told well, but that doesn’t negate the fact that there is story there, and a lot of it. I love rewatching Evolution because I always pick up on new things. The family lineage stuff gets a bit confusing, to be honest, but I always seem to connect the dots a bit more with each viewing. So, while it’s a valid criticism, it’s also more incentive to watch it.
If you never liked the Underworld films, this little anniversary piece won’t sway you. It’s one of those things you either like or you don’t. To those who find themselves fond of the post-Matrix Gothic action series, make sure you don’t leave this one out when revisiting this universe. It’s a gorgeous sequel that gets more right than wrong under the pressure of high expectations.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth