The idea of a secret war between classic monsters who walk among us is a great concept. Vampires and werewolves (called "Lycans" in these films) both employ vicious fangs to terrorize the living and convert them into fellow creatures, but their common images are very different -- conflict between elegant, aristocratic vampires and wild, animalistic werewolves seems only natural. And Underworld's backstory of enslaved werewolves rebelling against their vampire masters makes that conflict even more powerful. So, how to portray this epic battle of supernatural beasts? Have people wearing lots of black patent leather blast away at each other with machine guns, of course! (What, that wasn't obvious?) And these are special guns, too -- their ammunition has different effects, depending on the importance of the target to the plot. Is the victim a nameless warrior who might as well be wearing a red Star Trek uniform? A few dime-sized torso perforations and he's wasted. Is the recpient of said ammo the chief villain? 'Tis only a flesh wound! Um, 'tis only sixty-three flesh wounds! You see, in the world -- er, "underworld" -- of Underworld: Evolution, the only effective method of slaying a major character is impalement, followed by removal of the head (and, preferably, a few other extremities for effect). Impalement alone won't do, as Dr. Wiseman's Amazing Sanguine Elixir, i.e., characters feeding each other their blood, is just the thing to cure any puncture wound. Six-inch-thick steel pipe through the solar plexus? Just take two tablespoons of vein juice and call me in the morning. OK, so maybe the nonsensical combat is purely intentional, and we're supposed to let it slide. There are plenty of other examples of sloppy filmmaking from which to choose. A harbinger of things to come appears early in the film, as our heroes Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael (Scott Speedman), fresh from the carnage of the original film, visit a deserted secret lab used by the vampires to study the werewolves. When they arrive, Selene informs Michael that motion sensors will inform the "central mainframe" of their presence, so they'll have to grab what they need and hustle out of there before the other vampires track them down. Fair enough. But what happens when it's time to hustle? It's too dangerous for Michael to show up at the vampires' home base, so Selene is going alone. Don't worry, she'll be back to get him afterwards. If Michael wondered why she thought he'd be better off waiting there when she'd just told him that it wasn't safe to stay, then he kept it to himself. (Had I been on set, or at least in a story development meeting, I'd have piped up.) Another fun, um, "continuity" issue gelds a love scene between Michael and Selene, who are quite horny in addition to being fangy. Mainly it consists of the usual slo-mo closeups of ecstatic faces and random bits of rubbing flesh, but it also features a couple of full-length side views of the lusty couple. This would be all well and good if it weren't for the fact that, to put it politely, they're not lined up correctly. Not by a long shot. My first reaction: "Ooh, lots of skin!" My next reaction: "Is there something I should know about vampires' bellybuttons?" It kinda takes ya out of the scene. Getting back to the idea of vampires and werewolves as gunslingers, Underworld: Evolution actually kicks off with a prologue of sorts that takes place in the 13th Century, when the vampires made do with swords and crossbows and the Lycans stuck to their natural weaponry. This sequence is pretty interesting, and more scenes like it (or even a complete filmed origin story) would have been great. Unfortunately, that's it for this film's Medieval Times, aside from an excruciatingly drawn-out expository speech delivered later by a minor character. So what about the actual plot? Well, the backstory certainly has potential. Hundreds of years ago, two brothers named Corvinus became the original vampire and Lycan when they were respectively bitten by a bat and a wolf. Their "descendants" have fought an underground war nearly ever since. Way back when, the vampire brother, Marcus (Tony Curran), and his crew captured and imprisoned his fuzzy brother William (Brian Steele) and enslaved the other Lycans. The Lycans eventually revolted, sparking the continuing conflict. In the first film, a group of Lycans are trying to capture Michael, the actual descendant of a third Corvinus brother, whose blood remained "pure." There's some mumbo-jumbo about Michael becoming a "hybrid" vampire/ Lycan, which means that he eventually turns into a tough blue beastie who may be more powerful than any individual of either type. For the most part, though, he is a very passive character who gets dragged around by his vampire warrior girlfriend. In the new film, the Lycans are not so clever. We learn that the first of them were simply violent animals who couldn't change back into human form. Apparently, they evolved somehow into more advanced werewolves who could to some extent control their violent impulses and alternate between their original bodies and their battlin' wolf personae. This isn't explained in any detail (perhaps their vampire masters set up an obedience school of some sort, although the Schutzhund Theory doesn't explain the younger Lycans), and it flies in the face of the general idea of this mythos that older=stronger. Instead of a Lycan trying to capture the hybrid creature (who remains essentially passive, taking orders from Selene and participating in her fights at opportune moments), this film features Marcus trying to free his brother William, who has been locked away in a secret dungeon since his original capture. He also plans to start a new race of monsters in his "own image" (I bet the other vampires would like to know where he got those anime-style tentacles and enormous wings, and can he get them a discount?). Only Selene, the daughter of the dungeon's builder, knows where William is located, and she's not about to tell. Fortunately for Marcus, a side effect of the Elixir is its Vulcan Mind-Meld-like telepathy, so all he has to do to find his brother is drink Selene's blood. Unfortunately, Selene is not really a match for the O. V. (Original Vampire), so she'll need to power up before the final confrontation. Who better to help out than Alexander Corvinus (Derek Jacobi), the father of Marcus and William and the ancestor of Michael? No, he isn't a vampire or Lycan, but he is about 800 years old (don't bother askin', 'cause the script ain't tellin'). He has his very own ship decked out with all sorts of flashing lights and screens as well as a loyal squad of commandos. Whether the commandos are recently recruited normal humans or long, long, long-time employees isn't addressed, but they wear black and carry machine guns, just like the vampires and Lycans (in the first movie, anyway) do. At any rate, there's a lot of impaling and blood-drinking and plenty of jibber-jabber about the benefits of impaling people and drinking their blood. In fact, there's a bit of a preoccupation with impaling people and drinking their blood. Unfortunately, there's only so much character development that can be hung on that sort of stuff. Marcus wants to free his brother and become really powerful. Selene wants to stop him (remember, he needs to drink her blood) and protect Michael. Michael wants to -- well, he doesn't seem to have any motivations except when he turns blue and gets into fights. And Alexander simply wants to clean up his kid's mess. All of this, I suppose, is enough of a framework for a simple action flick, but there are just too many distractions here -- too many "why is he doing that?" moments. Two characters fighting on the back of a moving flatbed truck is very cool; wondering why the third character is still driving instead of double-teaming the bad guy really detracts from the cool. Unfortunately, that sort of head-scratcher is the rule rather than the exception in Underworld: Evolution. To make a long story short, Underworld: Evolution is only OK. It has some cool action sequences, but as with the first film, it’s more concerned with style than with making full use of its complex mythos to develop an interesting story or characters who are more than skin deep. In this respect, it’s inferior to the original, which was decent but no classic to begin with. Fans of the first Underworld may appreciate it, as it does hold some appeal as a slick action movie, but I wouldn’t get too excited about it. Anyone who didn’t care for the first film is highly unlikely to get anything out of this one, and those who haven’t seen its predecessor should probably go for that one instead, especially considering the fact that this story is a direct continuation of the events in the original. THE WAY I SEE IT: 4/5 Much like the first Underworld, this film is done just about entirely in shades of blue and takes place almost exclusively at night, giving it a very particular look. Blacks are very deep black, and colors are, well, very deep blue for the most part. The level of detail is very good, but perhaps a step below what it could be. The texture of the image, for the most part, shows a nice, natural film grain. There isn’t much in the way of digital artifacts, although there is some amount of visible edge enhancement. THE WAY I HEAR IT: 5/5 The soundtrack is really spectacular, with all five directional channels and their subby sidekick getting a mighty workout. There’s tons of shooting, shouting, growling, banging, and other activity to keep ‘em busy, not to mention a snazzy score with a strong, immersive mix. Despite the high sound levels, there was no distortion to speak of. THE SWAG: 2.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity) Commentary With Director Len Wiseman, Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos, Second Unit Director/ Stunt Coordinator Brad Martin, and Editor Nicolas De Toth This is a pretty solid track, wrapping plenty of interesting information about the production in a crispy banter shell. Wiseman and Tatopoulos do most of the talking. Featurettes Six featurettes are included, totaling around 70 minutes. They can be played individually or via a “Play All” button. They combine talking-head interviews with various members of the cast and crew with film clips and behind-the-scenes footage. Generally speaking, they are of decent quality. Anamorphic widescreen would’ve been nice, though. Bloodlines: From Script To Screen (13:26) This is an overview, EPK-type piece. Not the most exciting, but OK as those things go. The Hybrid Theory (13:00) The visual effects, which combined CGI, miniatures, green screen, and other techniques, are covered here. Some of the miniature work (which involved enormous “miniatures,” including a 34-foot boat) is especially interesting. Making Monsters Roar (11:56) This piece goes into great detail about the design of the Lycans and how they were brought to life, as well as the monstrous incarnation of Marcus. Everything you’d want to know about the creature costumes and effects and then some. The War Rages On (9:54) This featurette covers the stunts, but it spends too much time on film clips and talking-head interviews. There’s very little behind-the-scenes footage. Building A Saga (12:57) Director Wiseman and Production Designer Tatopoulos discuss a couple of the elaborate sets that were built for the film. Music And Mayhem (11:50) While this featurette doesn’t go into much detail about the music itself, it does offer some interesting insights from the filmmakers Music Video: “Her Portrait In Black” by Atreyu (3.54) This video intercuts footage of the band performing in a sewer-like environment with clips from the movie. The music is very aggressive, with death-metal-style vocals. Trailers When the disc is first inserted, the trailers for Ultraviolet and When A Stranger Calls play automatically. They may be skipped. When A Stranger Calls (2:22) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic) Ultraviolet (2:20) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic) London (2:02) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic) Click (2:32) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic) Underworld: Unrated Extended Cut (2:24) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic) Hostel (1:17) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic) The Boondocks (0:28) (DD2.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic) Marie Antoinette (1:46) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic) The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2:30) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic) The Benchwarmers (2:30) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic) Silent Hill (2:32) (DD2.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic) The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada (1:55) (DD2.0; 2.35:1 anamorphic) The James Bond Ultimate Collection (1:42) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 non-anamorphic) SUMMING IT ALL UP The Way I Feel About It: 2/5 The Way I See It: 4/5 The Way I Hear It: 5/5 The Swag: 2.5/5 While it isn’t awful, Underworld: Evolution has too many issues to really work. Fans of the original who are looking for more of the same may enjoy it, but aren’t likely to be blown away. There isn’t much here for anyone else. On the plus side, the A/V presentation is excellent, and the special features are good, so fans of the film who don’t want to wait for the inevitable Blu-Ray edition (which probably isn’t far off) can buy with confidence. For those considering a blind buy, a rental is recommended.