A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 273 – Underworld: Evolution

Underworld: Evolution – November 28th, 2010

Tonight we continue our vampire movie trilogy with the second Underworld movie. I hadn’t seen this one before (and I haven’t seen tomorrow’s either) so I was curious to see how things would pick up after the first. After all, there’s so much backstory in the first movie, so there’s plenty to work with in a sequel. And work with it they did! Except working with it also meant more backstory. It’s a backstory bonanza! Again, to the detriment of the actual in-movie plot.

Not that I have a problem with the actual plot, but there’s just so much crammed in here and the movie is only so long. This isn’t The Lord of the Rings. No one was going to sit through a three hour long vampire action flick. So things get glossed over and characters get short shrift and there’s some muddy storytelling. But overall it does feel like they had a good idea here and a nice big world and they cared enough to really try and create something epic in tone. It falls a little flat in places, but as with the first movie, there’s a sense of scale and history that I think give the movie a great mood.

When it comes to atmosphere, this movie and its predecessor are really very similar. It’s the same basic feeling to the world, where the vampires are haughty and entitled and the lycans are downtrodden and angry, and they all exist in a world apart from that of regular humans. What’s nice here is that the conflict between them, the reasons for it, and the repercussions of the first movie all get dealt with in a way that relates to that division of worlds. The first vampire and first werewolf are revealed to be brothers, and their father has been keeping tabs on them for centuries, watching and keeping the fights of their species as remote from humanity as possible.

Fortunately for this movie, the worldbuilding, with the conflict between the two brothers and the consequences of their actions being the basis of the plot, flows a little better than the worldbuilding in the first movie. I had some issues last night with the worldbuilding taking precedence and therefore forcing the movie’s story to get messy. And there is messiness here too. Sloppy things like the magical repair of Selene and Michael’s Land Rover (or the equally magical appearance of another one after their first gets smashed up in a remote location). I don’t think that the werewolf brother got nearly the time he should have. The sex scene felt shoehorned in where something more suitable to the rest of the movie could have been. The whole thing with vampires being able to absorb the memories of the people whose blood they drink? Why on earth would you ever leave someone behind who knew anything of value if you knew the guy chasing you could do that? And I wanted more made of Markus’ hybrid status.

This, I think, is my biggest complaint (bigger than the romance, and I really wasn’t fond of that – it’s sort of like the Star and Michael scene in The Lost Boys – I get the point but I don’t really need to see them in bed). At the end of the first movie one of the lycans is killed over Markus’ crypt. His blood seeps down into the crypt, awakening Markus and turning him into a hybrid with unheard-of powers and strength. And while he does make for a super bad guy, with his creepy bat nose and giant wings and talons, the fact that he’s a hybrid, and that’s where those powers came from, barely enters into things. He could just have been a super old vampire by the time the climactic fight scenes happen. After all, his brother, the first lycan, is permanently wolf-like and seemingly super powerful. More so than most lycans. So why wouldn’t the first vampire be similar? If they weren’t going to make any fuss over him being a hybrid, why bother doing it? It just ends up being messy. I’d guess it was so no one could argue that Michael with his super hybrid powers should be able to overpower a plain vampire, but well. Viktor almost got him. It was Selene who saved the day then. And she does it here too. I just wish the worldbuilding done with the hybrid stuff had actually played into things here for more than Michael. It’s the proverbial gun that doesn’t go off.

Still, there was a lot I liked about this movie. As I said, I much enjoyed the worldbuilding and backstory. I still love Selene and Michael got to do more than run this time, which was nice. I liked his growing realization that he’s not human anymore and that he’s going to have to adapt to a whole new way of life. He’s going to have to follow new rules and use the powers he’s got. It was a good development for his character. And Selene continues to be a bad ass, fully capable of kicking butt and holding her own. I loved Alexander Covrinus, though I do have to wonder how they got Derek Jacobi involved in this movie. Still, however they did it he has a great presence for the role of the ultimate patriarch in this world. My other favorite new character was Tanis, the exiled vampire historian. For one, I have a fondness for Stephen Mackintosh. For two, I love a librarian in any form. For three, go action research! He was a fun grey area character, playing both sides and keeping his little library in rather comfortable exile. I also liked that there was less dithering around. People find out new information and then they go and do something with it.

I don’t know if I liked this movie better than the first one or worse. Probably they’re about equal overall, but for different reasons. I admit, I’m very curious about the third movie, which I believe is a prequel. Hopefully it will take care of my desire for more attention to be paid to the lycans, and maybe it will feel balanced, since it won’t be doing the backstory/present day thing. I am nervous about the fourth movie mentioned on Wikipedia as being in pre-production, but who knows if that’ll even go far enough for me to worry about it. We’ll see.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Underworld Evolution

November 28, 2010

Underworld Evolution

There were three years between when the first Underworld film came out on DVD and when the second one did. This may explain why, when I first bought Evolution and put it in to watch it, I had to stop and go find the first Underworld movie so I could watch that first. There’s a short opening block of text and a voice-over by Kate Beckinsale, but the movie definitely supposes a foreknowledge of the characters and plot of the first movie.

This movie concentrates on two brothers: Marcus, the last surviving elder from Selene’s coven, and William, his unfortunate lycanthropic brother. There’s an action-filled prologue which sets the stage way back in the middle ages. Marcus, Viktor and Amelia are armored werewolf hunters who come across a village that William has slaughtered. Even as they start to burn the unfortunate victims they begin to awaken and transform into unstoppable half-wolves that pull the vampire brigade from their horses. Finally the vampires confront and capture William himself – a snow-white lycanthrop who seems twice as large as any of the others.

I enjoy this prologue for a number of reasons. For one thing it’s nice to see Bill Nighy again since his Viktor is one of my favorite things about the first movie. Having him here in this flashback goes a long way towards convincing me that this movie is very solidly in the same universe as the first one. The other thing this prologue does well is set the bar for the action in this movie.

I would say that this is a much more action-heavy movie than the first Underworld. Not that the first movie lacked action, but it had to lay down a lot of the ground rules for the Underworld universe and introduce all the characters and warring factions. This movie hits the ground running and has all the setup done in advance. There aren’t many plot twists or revelations like those towards the end of the first movie, it’s just a straight forward action movie set up. Present us with the stakes (the danger of an unchecked incursion of medieval feral lycans who cannot even turn back to human form – or worse a plague of lycan/vampire hybrids) and introduce the factions involved, then let them slug it out through a series of increasingly loud battles.

The biggest addition to the mystique of this movie is the introduction of a big secret paramilitary organization of humans who have been keeping tabs on happenings at Selene’s coven. They remind me a lot of the Watchers from the Highlander TV series – they know everything that’s going on but they don’t interfere and they clean up the mess afterwards. They are headed by a mysterious but noble figure played by Derek Jacobi. He actually does turn out to have something to do with the whole plot involving the two brothers, and of course he also provides Selene with a lot of cannon fodder for the final confrontation with Marcus.

I don’t feel that this movie has the same charm as the first one. The characters aren’t as deep and the story isn’t as interesting. But it feels very much a part of the same world, and I enjoy it on that level. It also is a far more action oriented movie. Indeed it’s more adult and R-rated in every way. There’s a ton more blood. There’s a little nudity and sensuality. But mostly it’s just big action scene after big action scene. Kate gets to flex her muscles as an action superstar, which is a lot of fun to watch, and there’s a ton of fun effects and make-up work on the lycans and Marcus. This movie is more eye-candy than the first one, but shallower. I’m quite curious now to see just what the third movie – the prequel – is all about.

November 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment