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Underworld: Evolution

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Underworld: Evolution

Director: Len Wiseman
Runtime: 105 minutes
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Derek Jacobi

In 2003, Georgia-based publisher White Wolf, Inc. sued Sony, claiming that the studio's new film Underworld infringed on various White Wolf role-playing games dealing with vampires and werewolves. Hotly contested among a tiny subsection of geeks and ignored by the rest of the world, the lawsuit ultimately quietly disappeared, reportedly settled out of court, but it was hard to argue that Underworld didn't bear a strong resemblance to White Wolf's games—and more significantly, to the rawest kind of wish-fulfillment RPG, with a couple of glowering, über-skilled badasses pounding through an endless horde of faceless enemies, periodically pausing for lengthy bouts of exposition, clichéd revelations, and a by-the-numbers ego-feeding romance.

The new sequel Underworld: Evolution is essentially another module in that same game; it takes up right where the first one left off, takes the exact same tone, assumes (probably rightly) that only the hardcore Underworld fanatics bothered to turn up, and caters to them all the way. Underworld director Len Wiseman returns to the helm, churning out more choppy, sped-up, Blade-style combat and pretty pre-combat compositions. His wife Kate Beckinsale is back as the leather-clad vampire assassin who's discovered dark truths about her lineage; Scott Speedman is back as her newly converted vampire/werewolf hybrid lover. Both are on the run from the thoroughly annoyed winged super-vamp (Tony Curran) revived in the final scene of Underworld. Loose plot threads are addressed and new plot threads are introduced at a dizzying rate, with a seriously slumming Derek Jacobi ultimately emerging as a link between Curran and a ginormous super-werewolf who have unfinished business from 800 years back.

There's a ton of backstory behind Underworld: Evolution, which gets slightly denser and rowdier than its predecessor, but it's ultimately all in the service of a nigh-endless series of numbing, mechanical battles in which snarling protagonists and CGI monsters shoot, claw, and bloodily eviscerate each other. In other words, it's Underworld, but more of it. Like role-playing games, the Underworld films are a highly specialized taste, and those who've acquired it know who they are. Everyone else should give this one a wide berth.