Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Difficulties of Killing Lycans: Underworld: Evolution



I confess that I liked much of the original Underworld. In the war between the aristocratic Death Dealer vampires and the crude Lycan werewolves, Kate Beckinsale as Selena liked to perch like a gargoyle high up on the ledge of buildings and jump down five stories when it suited her, one leg bent slightly as she fell, to land with ease and walk away. The fact that she was a beautiful vampire warrior in a black leather dominatrix outfit never hurt, and even though the film built up to a ridiculous action climax involving the chief honcho vampire’s (Bill Nighy’s) head getting chopped in half diagonally, it still was a pleasantly campy exercise in Gothic excess.

After the first film made a good profit, the director Len Wiseman celebrated by marrying Kate Beckinsale, and now he has lovingly made a sequel for her that sounds much like a Matrix sequel—Underworld: Evolution, but whereas the Matrix series relied heavily on green filters, Underworld leans heavily on blue to help create its moonlit look with a black leather sheen. In the new installment, the war between the Death Dealers and the Lycans rages on, but now we learn of how the whole mess got started in 1202 AD. The bloodlines of the various creatures stretch back to two brothers—William, the original werewolf, and Markus, the original Death Dealer. We see Markus and his minions ride into some poor middle European village one frozen winter night to battle the werewolf spawn of his brother who jump out of cottage windows to ravage warriors on their horses. Just when the Death Dealers start to burn the various corpses lying around in the snow, the dead bodies reawaken as werewolves, and we get to see their faces metamorphose into wolf snouts before they get killed again.

One learns pretty quickly that a) humans don’t matter very much in this war, and b) Death Dealers and Lycans are bloody hard to kill. Bullets work as a kind of minor irritant that slows them down, much as if they were lightly sprayed with pebbles, and not even stakes through the heart will necessarily finish them off because supernatural creatures heal easily.

The film then cuts to what seems to be present day Russia. Selena and her beloved Lycan hybrid Michael Corvin (played by handsome Scott Speedman) are busy trying to trace the secrets of their bloodlines. In a scene involving blood pouring into some extravagantly mechanical crypt, the original vampire Markus (Tony Curran) has been reawakened from his centuries long slumber, and he flies after Selena for her knowledge of the whereabouts of his Lycan brother William, who has been imprisoned in an abandoned castle for centuries. Markus has this intimidating way of piercing people with his wings, and he metamorphoses back and forth between a gruesome-looking greenish arch-fiend with giant wings and a relatively normal Britisher with bright blue eyees and blood all over his chest. When he wants information, he bites people’s necks and then downloads all of their memory from the blood.

In one scene reminiscent of a set-piece action sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Markus attacks Selena and Michael as they drive along a mountain road in a large truck late at night. As Markus keeps appearing at her windshield, she shoots him multiple times with a shotgun, but he keeps flying back. Finally, she uses the truck to crush his body up against the mountainside, and then drives on, leaving him crumpled up like a squashed bird on the road.

If this all sounds like hyperviolent nonsense, I would not argue, but the film has a curious conviction about its well-crafted action sequences. When Selena wants information, she uses her crossbow to shoot an arrow through a man’s drink to get his attention. Esteemed British actor, Derek Jacobi, also shows up with a big ship, a helicopter, and bunch of loyal soldiers to help him find the key to a vault inside the chest of dead Death Dealers. He has these fun little circular bombs that eject chemical spray before exploding, and he seems pretty nonchalant about having his chest pierced by one of Markus’s wings. Part of the film’s charm lies in its otherworldly preoccupation, its indifference to its audience. We are just pitiful humans, easily killed and ultimately not all that interesting compared to this epic struggle going on in the dark.

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