Underworld: Evolution

The biggest shock in Underworld: Evolution, the unsolicited-by-me sequel to 2003’s video-sleeper hit Underworld, is the moment when the latex-goth vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is revealed to be … a brunette. In all of Underworld and in most of this movie, Selene seems to have jet-black hair, but it turns out that’s just the dull color scheme of both films, which turns everything various shades of blue and black. It’s as if someone had washed these films in the same laundry load as Batman’s costume; even Cyndi Lauper in her ’80s prime would be rendered colorless in the Underworld universe. In a tender post-coital moment, though, Selene is seen in the morning light, and there she is with brown hair. I’m thinking about hair color after just having seen an action-horror movie; that’s a bad sign.

Underworld had its fans — those who wanted a self-important Matrix-y horror flick, I guess — so here we have more of the same. If you felt generous, you could praise these movies’ tonal consistency: There isn’t a laugh anywhere in either film. Director Len Wiseman has possibly played too many vampire-themed role-playing games (indeed, the RPG company White Wolf sued over the similarities between the first film and their games Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse). He takes the material with the deadly seriousness of a game master presiding over a terribly crucial round of play. Brokeback Mountain had more levity than these movies, for Christ’s sake. As before, characters stand around grimly, jaws clenched, distracted by the unspeakable import of the centuries-long feud between … uh … vampires and werewolves.

I’m sorry, should movies like this not be fun? Should there not be a modern sensibility to go along with the modern weaponry? In a prologue, set in the 12th century, we see vamps and werewolves go at each other with swords and their own fangs. The rest of the movie has the vampires loaded for bear with the latest in NRA chic (the werewolves don’t get much screen time here, though, and they don’t have any firepower now). Selene, a “death dealer” whose job is to kill werewolves, always has what appear to be dozens of guns secreted somewhere in her body suit. Yet late in the movie, when a SWAT team of vampires delve into a werewolf-ridden dungeon, we hear one of them say “We only have UV rounds” — which only work on vamps, not werewolves (who died by liquid-silver bullets in the first film). Excuse me? You have equipment that would make Rambo cry with envy, and you forgot to bring the ammo that kills the very creatures you’ve been hunting for centuries?

Underworld: Evolution is convoluted nonsense anyway, having to do with the powerful vampire and werewolf sons (boss-level monsters, you’d call them in a video game) of the immortal Corvinus (Derek Jacobi), whose blood also flows in the veins of Selene’s half-vamp, half-wolf sweetie Michael (Scott Speedman). The vampire son Marcus (Tony Curran) can turn into a bat-like thing that at one point chases Selene while she’s driving a big truck; I feel certain that Derek Jacobi never imagined he’d be in a movie involving a contest between a truck and a bat monster. The werewolf son is in exile behind approximately five thousand locked doors, which can only be opened by two keys, and only Selene knows where he is, and I’m back to thinking about Selene’s hair color. Seriously, is her hair like a mood ring or something? It’s only brown when she’s happy?

I’m a horror fan and a shameless booster of cheesy movies. I love a ridiculous vampire or werewolf movie as much as the next B-movie geek. Hell, I can’t wait for Werewolves on Wheels to come out on DVD next month. But the Underworld movies take what should be a radiantly goofy premise and ladle tons of uptight style and backstory over it, stealing from The Matrix and Lord of the Rings and whatever else made millions of geeks buy millions of tickets (only by the grace of God are there no lightsabers in these films, I suspect). The effect is pulp pomposity.

The Underworld films — a prequel is said to be planned too, if you’re ready for that — are just action flicks banged together with horror fantasy, and the action is pretty uninspired, except a scene involving a climactic fight perilously near a whirring helicopter blade. But wait, that rips off the Indiana Jones movies. I guess we’re lucky Selene isn’t wearing a fedora. Then again, that would cover up her mood hair.

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