Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Cinema & TV: Wolf Children (2012)

Hello and welcome to another dose of shapeshifting extravaganza!

Recently, as I was backing up my old werewolf movie reviews, I realised I haven’t written a review for four whole years. It’s astounding how fast time flies. In response to this, I decided to write something of the mentioned sort, so this time we’ll be looking at a production a little different from the usual werewolf movies – an animated film, Hosoda Mamoru’s Wolf Children.

In order to create Wolf Children, Hosoda established Studio Chizu, which co-produced the movie with studio Madhouse (known for animating well-known titles such as: Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, Death Note, Marvel Anime, Hellsing Ultimate, Trigun, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, and many more). The movie’s characters were designed by Sadamoto Yoshiyuki – the character designer for Neon Genesis Evangelion.

The production had its international debut in June 2012 in France, a month before it began screening in Japan, and was an immediate success, becoming the second-highest grossing film in its home country on its debut weekend of 21-22 July (the number one highest-grossing film at the time being Disney Pixar’s Brave). Following its success, Hosoda has been numerously hailed as a successor of Miyazaki Hayao and the influences of Studio Ghibli’s productions are visible throughout the movie. Wolf Children was well received by critics, scoring 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and obtaining a rating of 7.2/10 on Metacritic.
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Wolf Children on Amazon!

Since I am now part of Amazon’s Affiliate program, you can directly support me by purchasing a copy of your own of Wolf Children from Amazon! Should my analysis and review spark your interest in the movie – or should you want to view it yourself before reading this article – please consider buying it through the link provided next to this message. Simply click on the cover of the Blu-Ray version of the movie on the right-hand side and you will be sent to a page listing all the offers related to Wolf Children! Unfortunately, at this moment the movie is not available on Amazon Video due to Amazon's agreement (or lack of thereof) with the Japanese distributor, so the only copies for purchase are physical Blu-Rays and DVDs.

And so, after this short introduction, it’s time that we took a closer look at the movie – not from the perspective of a general movie critic, but from the point of view of a lycanthropologist.

Summary

Wolf Children follows the life of a young woman named Hana, who falls in love with a mysterious man she meets during university lectures. When their relationship becomes serious, the man reveals to Hana that he is a werewolf, but the two remain together regardless. They live happily for a few years and have two children, but their happiness is cut short by the man’s death. As a lone mother, Hana has to face the hardships of bringing up her two half-human half-wolf children, looking on as with the passage of time they choose their own paths in life and decide whether they want to live as humans or wolves.

In-depth Analysis & Synopsis

As we learn at the beginning, the movie is narrated throughout by Yuki – Hana’s daughter, whose recount of the events of her mother’s life is the basis of the plot. We do not know if at this point in time Hana is still alive (and Yuki tells her story as an homage) or if Yuki has children of her own (and wants them to know their grandmother’s story) or if she is telling the story simply so that it’s not forgotten.

Initially, the action takes place in Tokyo, where Hana attends university. In a dream-like vision (it is never explained if these are Hana’s dreams or simply symbolic scenes added for artistic effect), as she is lying in a meadow full of flowers, Hana sees a silhouette of a wolf approaching in the distance, which  then shifts its appearance to that of a dark-haired man. In early summer, she meets the future father of her children during one of her university lectures. She lends him her textbook and learns that he’s not a student, but attends lectures whenever he can as an auditor. The two take to each other and start dating, quickly falling in love with one another.

One summer evening, the man (whose name we never learn and who is only referred to as ‘the werewolf’ in Japanese or ‘the Wolfman’ in the English version) informs Hana that there is something important that he needs to tell her, but in the end he hesitates and puts it off until the next day. Time passes and we learn that it isn’t until winter that he builds up courage to finally reveal his secret to Hana. The secret is, of course, the fact that he’s a werewolf. The two meet on a hill overlooking Tokyo and, having made sure that they are alone, the Wolfman asks Hana to close her eyes. He then transforms into his humanoid wolf form in front of her, completely taking her aback. 


One thing to note here is that for some reason, when he first transforms, his eye colour changes from his human form blue to yellow, but then after he’s done it goes back to being blue. I’m not sure whether this is intentional or just a small mistake in colouring. When I think of some later moments in the movie, there are times when the werewolves’ eyes change colour to red to signify anger, but since generally they retain their human eye colour after they transform, I would say that this exception might exist simply to emphasise the effect of the first transformation that we see on screen.

As we can see, the Wolfman retains a semblance of his old hairstyle after shapeshifting, which is a recurring theme for this movie’s werewolves. They can also speak while in wolf form, their voices virtually unchanged, except for occasional growls when angered. I know that the movie’s primary aim is to tell a story and so it does have some flaws (although as far as anatomical correctness is concerned, Wolf Children does a pretty good job at presenting its werewolves) – naturally, when undergoing a transformation, one would expect the werewolf’s vocal chords to undergo a change as well. Even if one would retain the ability to speak, it would probably not be as clear and articulate as when one is human, not to mention that canine mouths aren’t made for complex human speech. Here, however, the werewolves can easily speak with their own voices after they transform, which might actually be to emphasise the fact that they are basically perfect hybrids between human and wolf, as we learn over the course of the movie.


Right off the bat, Hosoda’s production rebuffs werewolf stereotypes by stating that its werewolves do not need a full moon to transform and they are not solely about hunting and killing people. We then learn that our Wolfman is the last (of course!) descendant of the now-extinct Japanese wolf, but it is not explained what kind of descent we are talking about here.

Let’s focus for a moment on the above mentioned animal, since its significance will be important later on (and some background information is always useful – ‘the more you know’ and that kind of thing…). So, the Japanese wolf was the smallest wolf in the world, and actually included two subspecies of the wolf: the Hokkaidō wolf (Canis lupus hattai) which went extinct in 1889, and the Honshū wolf (Canis lupus hodophilax) which went extinct in 1905. Since it is mentioned that it has been a hundred years since the extinction of the Japanese wolf whose descendant the Wolfman is (and even more so since the action takes place in Tokyo, not on Hokkaidō), we can safely assume that the wolf in question here is the Honshū wolf. Both of the aforementioned subspecies of the Canis lupus were driven to extinction due to expanding human settlements encroaching on the wolves’ habitats (which caused conflicts between the animals and ranchers), the industrialisation of the country during the Meiji restoration period, and even rabies, which decimated the wolves’ population once it was introduced to the island in the first half of the 18th century. Even when the Honshū wolf was still abundant in Japan, it was so elusive that it gained almost a mythical status, blending into traditional Japanese folklore. The wolf was therefore considered a guardian of mountains and a protector of travellers. It was even believed that abandoned infants could be picked up and raised by wolves. These beliefs are present in many modern works that take from Japanese lore, the two most obvious examples that come to my mind being Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke, where there is a great white wolf-god called Moro, and Clover Studio’s video game Ōkami, where the great goddess Amaterasu takes on the form of a white wolf to fight against the evil Yamata no Orochi.

Coming back to Wolf Children, we don’t know exactly how such perfect hybrids as the Wolfman’s kin first came to be, but maybe it is better not to think about it too deeply, for we might come up with something not as pleasant as we would like to. It’s a pity that the movie didn’t care to provide a little bit more exposition about the origins of its werewolves, though. My guess is that for an ordinary viewer this information wouldn’t be at all that important, it’s only us werewolf-crazy people that always nitpick so much. Maybe it was a question too difficult to come up with an answer to for Hosoda? Or perhaps he simply wanted to add magic to the whole setting by steeping the Wolfman’s roots in mystery. Either way, the only things we know are what we learn from Yuki’s narration, which are things she heard from her mother who, in turn, learned them from the Wolfman. We learn that he was told about the nature of his existence by his parents, which suggests that at least one of them was also a werewolf (unless they took him in, but that is just speculation). They also forbade him to tell anyone about it for his own safety and soon after apparently they both died (it is not explained how), which forced him to spend his childhood in the care of relatives oblivious to his being a werewolf. After a troubled childhood, the Wolfman decided to get his driver’s licence and start working in Tokyo, where he lived hiding his true nature from everyone around until he met Hana.


The girl is at first shocked, but she decides not to break up with the Wolfman and accepts his werewolfism. The two then have sex and soon after the Wolfman moves in to live with Hana in her apartment. They enjoy a blissful life together, but soon the first troubles of being the wife of a werewolf appear when Hana learns that she is pregnant. Scared of what the doctors might find in her belly, she decides to learn about natural childbirth in order to give birth to her child at home, without any outside help. While she stays at home, the Wolfman continues working as a truck driver and sometimes in the evenings goes out to hunt, bringing wild fowl back home for some additional sustenance for his pregnant mate. The following winter, Hana gives birth to a daughter, who they call Yuki, because of snow that was falling that day. Contrary to Hana’s fears, Yuki is born looking like an ordinary human baby. A year after, during a rainy spring day, her little brother, Ame, is born. Their happiness is cut short, however, when one day the Wolfman disappears, seemingly without a trace. Having found the groceries and his wallet in front of their apartment’s door, Hana sets out to roam the city in search of her beloved. What she discovers breaks her heart and shatters her world.


Crossing a bridge, Hana notices a clean-up crew who are preparing to pull out a large canine out of the river. What to ordinary inhabitants of Tokyo seems nothing more than a large dog (since wolves have been extinct for quite a while), to Hana is none other than her werewolf husband. Because we can only know as much as Hana and Yuki, we have no idea what happened that lead to his death. We can only speculate based on what we are shown on-screen and the little that Yuki tells us, which is to say we can assume he went hunting for fowl after he had brought Hana the groceries, during which time something went horribly wrong, making him drown somewhere in the upper parts of the Sumida river, his body then carried downstream into the city, where it is found by a trash van.

What we immediately notice here is that after death his form remains that of a wolf and does not revert to that of a human, at least not soon after death. We do not know, however, how long he had been drifting before he was discovered. It would be quite a shock for the clean-up crew if the body of the canine they bagged turned out human later on, but since this is the only time we see a werewolf corpse in the entire movie, we have to assume that that’s not what happened and that, indeed, the Wolfman remained a wolf after death.

Heart-broken, Hana returns home and resolves to raise her two children on her own. This, at times, proves to be a little more than she had bargained for, but the girl doesn’t give up. In order to take care of the kids, she is forced to resign from college, as well as quit her part-time jobs, sustaining herself and her children only off of what their father had saved up. Yuki in particular is a handful for her mother – teeming with energy, impatient, and a glutton, she is a stark contrast of her younger brother, Ame. The children are shown to be unsure of what they are and what they want to be – humans or wolves – which is an overarching theme of the movie. It is hard, however, to talk about such serious life choices when talking about toddlers, so Yuki and Ame end up spending as much of their childhoods being wolves and half-wolves as being humans.


They are shown – or should I say, Yuki is shown, since she’s the livelier of the two – doing various things that human babies don’t do (in addition to the things babies do, of course), such as chewing on practically anything they can get hold of (books, wooden furniture), tearing pillows apart, and making a general mess of the apartment. This not only gives their mother a proper headache, but also forces her to learn both how to raise human children and study the habits and ways of life of wolves. Raising half-human half-wolf children proves quite a challenge for Hana, difficult decisions forced upon her at every turn. For instance, when Yuki becomes sick, Hana has no idea whether she should take her to a paediatrician or a veterinarian, so she decides to contact a doctor by phone. Due to the fact that the children don’t yet have full control over their transformations (just like little children burst into tears for any reason possible), Hana is forced to isolate them from other children and can only look on while other mothers and their children play with each other in the park.

But the problems just keep piling up as time goes by. The frail and moody Ame keeps crying at night, which brings angry neighbours to Hana’s doors, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The children soon start to howl at night, just like wolves do. This, coupled with all the other antics they perform that ordinary children do not, causes the landlady to threaten Hana with eviction if she refuses to get rid of her ‘pets’. Although Hana assures the landlady that she does not own any animals, the woman will have none of it (despite not having seen any animals in Hana’s apartment, but that’s how people are). As if this wasn’t enough, soon after, Child Care workers knock on Hana’s door. Because neither Yuki nor Ame had ever been vaccinated or taken for medical check-ups, they became worried about their well-being. Terrified that they might see her children transform, Hana refuses to let them in. Sometime later, she takes them to a desolate field, so they can play outside as much as they want without anyone seeing them. Rhetorically, she asks them if they have decided whether they want to live their lives as wolves or humans, but the kids are still too young to understand her meaning. For them, being what they are is natural, so they don’t see any reason to choose.


Hana decides that the only way for her family to live unbothered by urban society is for them to move to the countryside. Through an estate agent, Hana and her children travel to the countryside in search of a new home. To the estate agent’s surprise, the woman decides to settle in an abandoned house near the hills (this setting gives off a serious My Neighbour Totoro vibe, by the way), where one has to travel a few kilometres to find the nearest neighbours. For our werewolf family this is the perfect place to live without any intrusions. During Hana’s dialogue with the estate agent, we come across another characteristic belief related to the figure of the wolf in Japanese culture. The estate agent informs Hana that it will probably be impossible for her to grow any produce of her own because the nearby field is often ravaged by wild animals that come down from the mountains. In Japanese folklore the wolf, as guardian spirit, would often protect farmers’ plots from animals that would otherwise ruin the crops – so we can be sure that our family will have no problems with keeping it clear. It is also mildly implied that the house Hana chooses was the home of her werewolf partner – the mountains in the area look exactly as the ones in a picture he was carrying, while inside the house there are signs that someone had been raising children in it in the past.

Finally, Yuki and Ame can do whatever they want without fear of being seen by other people. The opposing personalities of the two siblings begin to show – Yuki is a night unstoppable force of nature; she hunts, chases cats, climbs trees, while Ame prefers to either stay with Hana (observing her as she works towards renovating the house) or hide behind his sister’s back as he watches her antics. While Yuki is the strong, independent one, the frail Ame finds himself attacked and injured by wild animals.


Soon, the time comes for Hana to teach her children about who they are and how they should behave – she tells them it is their secret and that they should never transform into wolves in front of other people because they would create a panic. She also asks them not to act arrogant in front of forest animals, if they ever meet any.

But as the children grow, questions about their identity begin to appear one after another. Ame reads a fairytale about a big bad wolf being chased away by village hunters, which makes him question why wolves are so disliked by humans. While Yuki embraces her lupine side and quickly learns how to hunt small animals, Ame becomes miserable about being a wolf, arguing that humans hate wolves and that in stories wolves are always the villains who get killed in the end – because of which he refuses to be a wolf. On the other hand, having overheard Hana’s conversation with some neighbours, Yuki pesters her mother that she send them to a nursery school and wants to know why she hasn’t done so already. When Hana refuses to send Yuki to a nursery school, the girl throws a tantrum and keeps saying that she would manage to keep her secret among other children. Hana begins to realise that inevitably she will have to take the risk and let the energetic Yuki go to school.


In the meantime, however, winter arrives with all its snowy glory, bringing with it an incident that, in the long run, will have a profound effect on the family’s future. On one winter morning, when snow covers everything in sight, Hana takes her children to the forest so they can play in the snow. Yuki and Ame run as fast as they can through the snow as wolves, with Hana following them as fast as she can and picking up the clothes they leave behind when they shapeshift. Unfazed by the cold because of their wolf fur, the kids have a great time and the day seems to be just perfect… until Ame sees a belted kingfisher land on a rock in the nearby river. Suddenly, up until now dormant instincts awaken the hunter inside him and he leaps and catches the bird in his jaws. Proud of his accomplishment, Ame starts heading back onto the bank, but trips over his scarf and falls into the water. The strong current starts carrying him downstream and the little wolf can hardly keep his head out of the water. Turning back into a human, he calls for Hana’s help, but she is too far away to come to his aid quickly enough. In the chaos, the river’s current causes the boy to hit his head on a protruding rock and he begins to drown. Luckily, Yuki, who was still nearby and noticed the disappearance of her brother, comes to his rescue. Hana arrives at the scene soon after and finds an exhausted Yuki and a naked Ame lying on the river’s bank. Afraid that he’s dead, Hana starts trying to wake him up and is relieved when he starts speaking to her. The event proves to be a life-changing moment for Ame – he tells his mother how good he felt when he caught the kingfisher, saying that he felt as though he could do anything and that finally he wasn’t afraid. From that day onwards, as Yuki describes, the boy becomes a completely different person.

Winter ends and Yuki turns six. She starts doing everything in her power to persuade her mother to let her go to elementary school (instead of being home-schooled, I suppose). Seeing her determination, Hana agrees, but forbids Yuki to turn into a wolf among other children. To seal the promise, she teaches Yuki a short nursery rhyme which she tells her is a spell that will prevent her from turning into a wolf. Of course, this is all just make-believe, but it adds the little girl confidence that she will manage to keep her wolf side hidden. Yuki is beyond herself with happiness on her first day at school. Although at first she loses a bit of confidence, for the first time being surrounded by so many people, but she quickly adapts and makes friends. She doesn’t have to turn into a wolf to prove a little different from other children – she eats a lot more than others (though, she has always been a glutton, so it might not have anything to do with her being a werewolf) and can run faster and for longer periods of time than other children during P.E. lessons.

Once Yuki goes to school, Hana decides to start looking for a job. When Ame points out the picture of a wolf on a recruitment poster for the local natural park, Hana decides to take him with her to the meeting of possible candidates for park ranger assistants. She takes the job despite the low pay in order to learn more about the local wildlife, hoping that the knowledge she gains while working will help her in raising her children. 


By Hana’s request, the chief park ranger leads them to where the wolf from the poster is held. The chief explains that it is a timber wolf supposedly born in the Moscow zoo, which was then taken in by a wealthy someone who received a special permit to raise it, but when they passed away, the wolf was brought in to the park’s shelter and stayed there ever since. When the chief leaves the room for a moment, Hana tries to get the old wolf to give her advice on how to raise her son, but the animal just gives her a lonely stare. On their way back from the park, Ame comments that the old wolf seemed very lonely and asks if his father looked like him, which Hana denies. The boy wishes he could have meet his father and Hana understands his feelings.

Meanwhile at school Yuki is in for quite a shock when, in time, it turns out that her interests differ greatly from those of other girls. To say she is a tomboy would probably be an understatement. While her friends weave flower wreaths and find four-leaf clovers during an outing, Yuki presents them with a snake wrapped around her arm, which scares the living daylights out of the other girls. On another occasion, the girls bring their ‘treasure boxes’ to school to show off what they got from their parents (which usually turns out to be jewellery) – and are again scared and disgusted when Yuki’s box turns out to be filled with animal bones, skins and pines (trophies of her hunts and adventures in the woods, possibly). All this causes Yuki to become treated with an increasing distance by her classmates. Embarrassed by this, the girl makes a resolution to behave as womanly as she can so that she’s accepted by those around her. When Hana asks why she won’t just be who she is, Yuki replies angrily that she doesn’t want to be considered a weirdo. This aspect of her personality – her eagerness to fit into the human society – becomes her defining trait, as well as something that will later cause conflict between her and her brother.

A year later, Ame reluctantly enrolls at the same elementary school as his sister. It quickly becomes evident that school is something not for him. In an environment where Yuki flourishes, Ame finds himself lonely and disinterested (and later on bullied by his classmates). All in all, he lasts less than three years at school before he starts playing truant. In a symbolic scene where the boy stands at a crossroads near home (one way leading to where the school bus stops, the other way leading to the natural park), Ame shows that he is more interested in accompanying his mother to her work at the natural reserve. While she’s working, he spends time in the company of the old timber wolf, transforming into his anthropomorphic wolf form in front of him. It is visible that Ame is greatly missing a fatherly figure in his life.


In the meantime, a boy by the name of Souhei transfers to Yuki’s class. He instantly proves a nuisance to Yuki when he asks her if her family has a pet dog. When the girl asks why he thinks that, Souhei replies that she smells of dog fur. Yuki is taken aback by the boy’s remark, because no one else pointed such a thing to her before, and becomes afraid that her secret might come to light.

Now, this situation proved some food for thought for me. Why would Yuki smell of dog in her human form and why would Souhei be able to notice it? The answer to the former could be that the scent of a wolf could remain on Yuki after she transforms, especially on her hair, because unlike many werewolf incarnations she does not grow all of her hair when she turns into a wolf – as it is show numerous times throughout the movie, the hair on her head remains largely unchanged when she shapeshifts. This leads me to believe that a canine scent could remain on her hair even after she’s gone back to being a human. In this case, it would mean that either nobody else asked Yuki about it because they straight-up dismissed it as her having a pet dog, or that Souhei happens to have a very keen sense of smell (which does happen sometimes; and don’t worry, he’s just a human, as the movie eventually shows us – or, to be precise, doesn’t show us it being otherwise). Another theory I had is that Yuki retains a nearly-absent lupine scent which can only be smelled by those with very good noses… for example, dogs. This theory would explain why dogs always bark at our werewolves – they are able to notice that they smell like wolves, but look like humans. This is, of course, an idea that doesn’t take into account any pheromones produced by the werewolf’s glands even when in human form (remember all those times werewolves in human form are shown to possess a nigh irresistible sex appeal?), not to mention dismisses any supernatural reasons why a man’s best friend would see through a lycanthrope’s disguise.

Either way, Yuki decides that it will be best for her to avoid further interaction with her new classmate. But, much to her dismay, Souhei becomes persistent in trying to find out why she’s giving him the cold shoulder, in spite of being repeatedly told by her that it’s nothing he should be concerned about. Stubbornly, he follows Yuki and eventually corners her, trying to force her to tell him the truth. Although she keeps repeating the rhyme her mother taught her when she first went to school, Yuki is so scared that she loses control. Partially transformed, she punches Souhei and injures his ear.


Hana is then called to come to the school from work, where she and Yuki are confronted by Souhei’s livid mother in the principal’s office. Embarrassed, terrified, and sad about what happened, Yuki is forced to apologise (despite the fact that if Souhei hadn’t been so stubborn, the incident might’ve never happened in the first place). In the midst of Souhei’s mother’s threats of lawsuit, the boy says that he was hurt by a wolf, which horrifies Hana. When the meeting is over, Yuki tells her mother that ‘the spell’ didn’t work however many times she repeated it. She says is afraid that she will be expelled from school and that they won’t be able to live in their countryside house anymore before bursting into tears.

Souhei, however, does not give up. One afternoon, instead of going home, he takes the school bus and visits Yuki’s house just before Hana arrives back from work. Seeing the car approach, he leaves a sheet of paper on the doorstep and runs away. It turns out that it is a handout from class for the absent Yuki who is lying in bed, depressed. Unwilling to confront him, Yuki stays at home, while Souhei apparently tries to win her forgiveness and friendship by leaving her gifts, as well as bringing her handouts and homework on his way back from school. On one such occasion Hana asks him inside, because Yuki’s gone to visit her best friend. She asks him why he said that a wolf hurt him, to which he replies that he was sure he saw a wolf for a split second before he fell to the ground and that by saying it was a wolf he meant to defend Yuki, but nobody believed him. When asked if he hates wolves, Souhei disagrees. After that, although still a little reluctantly, Yuki goes back to school and becomes friends with Souhei.


At the same time, Ame informs Hana that he is going to meet ‘the Teacher’ (or ‘the Master’, depends on how you want to translate it) on the mountain. He explains that he calls him that because he teaches him a lot about the mountain forest, as well as life in general. Hana assumes he’s talking about someone living up on the mountain and praises her son for becoming friends with someone older, but when she asks Ame to bring him home sometime, the boy replies that the Teacher doesn’t want to meet humans and that he doesn’t come down from the mountain like boars and bears. At this point Hana realises that the Teacher isn’t human, but doesn’t say anything. Instead, she agrees to go meet him when Ame proposes that the Teacher may let her see him. It turns out that the Teacher is an old fox that lives in the forest near a great tree. Still astounded by this revelation, Hana thanks him for taking care of Ame and offers him food, which he accepts. Wolf-Ame is then shown run off into the forest with the Teacher. Following the old fox’s lead, Ame learns how to climb mountains, how to hunt small animals, where to find fresh water to drink, and observes the life of forest animals like only one of them could.

The Teacher sparks in Ame an awe at and a love for the wilderness surrounding his home. Ame eagerly tells Hana about what he’s learned about the forest and its inhabitants when he accompanies her to work. Seeing the grin on his face when he recounts all these things, Hana realises that this is what really makes him happy. One evening, however, this becomes the source of conflict between him and his sister. While Yuki’s doing homework, Ame tries to persuade her to let the Teacher teach her as well, telling her about the skills she would gain or improve upon if she did so. She refuses and in reply asks him why he won’t come to school. They quickly begin to argue after Ame states that he won’t go to school because he’s a wolf and all that he needs to know is on the mountain, while Yuki tells him that he is also a human and so he should go to school like she does. Yuki also reveals to him that she decided to never turn into a wolf again, because she wants to be a human. The scene is a decisive moment for the siblings, as it represents how divergent from each other their paths in life have become over the years. With neither side able to persuade the other, the argument turns into a wolf-on-wolf fight. The two wolf siblings thrash the interior of the house, with Hana powerless to talk sense into them. Eventually, Yuki forfeits the fight by escaping and locking herself in the bathroom. 


Hana admits to herself that although allowing her children freedom of choice in the matter of who they want to be was what she always wanted, she can’t help feeling worried about what the future will bring.

Two more years pass (in the plot, of course!) before we enter the final part of the movie, which will bring the awaited climax of the story. Yuki turns eleven and is in the last year of elementary school (which in Japan is 6th grade). Ame has been visiting the forest more frequently than before as he devotes himself to overseeing the well-being of the mountain and its inhabitants. It is revealed that the year has seen many severe downpours, which make Ame worried about the forest creatures, including the Teacher. During his outings, he leaves home for so long that Hana begins to worry about him. On one of the numerous rainy days Ame returns home with a sad face. He tells his mother that the Teacher has injured his leg and that he will die soon since he can’t walk anymore. He says that somebody (that is, him) has to take over the Teacher’s responsibilities as the forest’s overseer. Concerned, Hana forbids Ame to go to the mountain again, arguing that he’s only ten years old and that while a wolf at ten is already an adult, he’s still got ways to go…but stops abruptly, realising that her children aren’t ordinary children. Out of motherly concern, she begs him not to visit the mountain again, but deep down inside she knows that it’s inevitable.

Forced to stay home, Ame is like a caged bird. Finally, the decisive moment comes when one afternoon a great storm comes to the countryside. Because of it, Yuki’s afternoon classes are cancelled and Hana is called to pick her daughter up from school. Rain is already pouring down from the sky and a strong wind is blowing outside. After she puts on a raincoat, Hana notices that Ame is gone. She then sees his silhouette as he is heading for the mountain and decides to pursue him, forgetting about Yuki. And yes, this is pretty much what happens for the last twenty minutes of the movie – Hana is wading through the muddy forest searching for Ame, while Yuki and Souhei (whose mother also didn’t come to pick him up) stay together at school and talk. Of course, I’d be lying if I said that’s that, since I already said this was the movie’s climax. Two important things happen on this fateful day.

First of all, Yuki shares an intimate moment with Souhei (and it’s not the kind of ‘intimate’ you’re probably thinking about). When he tells her the truth about his mother’s attitude towards him and describes how he wants to run away from home and live all by himself, Yuki decides that it would be a good moment for her to reveal the truth about what happened when she accidentally injured his ear. She tells Souhei how she envies him that he can tell the truth about himself and still smile afterwards. She then transforms and shows herself to him, confessing that the wolf that hurt him that day was really her.


Yuki says that she’s never told anyone else about this and that the inability to tell the truth about what happened to him caused her to suffer all these years. To her surprise, Souhei doesn’t seem startled – in fact, he tells her that he knew about her being a werewolf from the day of the incident, but admits that he’s never told anyone about her secret nor will he ever do so. This show of understanding moves Yuki to tears. She is finally able to get rid of the burden of guilt she’s been carrying for such a long time and achieve redemption.

Meanwhile, while still trying to find Ame, Hana slips on the muddy terrain and tumbles down a hillside. She loses consciousness and lies on the ground at the foot of the hill until nightfall. During this time she has another dream-like vision, similar to the one from the beginning of the movie. She is calling out Ame’s name, looking for him in the same meadow of flowers as before. She thinks she sees his silhouette, but as she comes closer, she finds that it’s not her son, but her late partner (one has to admit, however, that Ame is a spitting image of his father). The Wolfman apologises to Hana for the trouble he caused her and compliments her that she has raised their children well. Hana then remembers that she has to find Ame, but the Wolfman calms her down by assuring her that the boy will be just fine because he’s an adult and has found his own world which he wants to be a part of. Thus, Hana’s mind is put to rest.

Out in the real world, Ame finds his mother and carries her, still unconscious, out of the forest. She wakes up as the dawn is breaking, just in time to see her son leave. Sobbing, she calls out to him, asking if this is goodbye and apologising to him that there are still many things she would like to do for him, but won’t be able to. This makes him hesitate for a few moments, but eventually the call of the wild prevails and the now fully-grown wolf leaps back into the bushes, leaving the crying Hana behind. As the morning sun shines through the parting clouds in a symbolic image of a new beginning, Ame lets out a long howl – hearing it, Hana realises that this is how it’s meant to be and a smile lights up her face. The mythological guardian spirit of the mountain has returned.


In the epilogue, we learn that a year after that Yuki goes to junior high school and moves out to live in the school’s dormitory. Hana is shown to still live peacefully in their house in the country. In the closing scene, she is shown sitting looking at the picture of her werewolf husband. The wind then carries the howl of a wolf down from the mountains and Hana listens to it with closed eyes and a smile on her face.

Impressions & Evaluation

Wolf Children is, for the viewer, a movie adventure steeped in Japanese wolf folklore. It is an animated drama about choices every one of us has to make in order to stay true to themselves, as well as about human strength for overcoming hurdles that life puts in our way. As a werewolf movie, it’s one of those productions that provide the viewer with a quite a bit more food for thought than the usual slashers. It explores the hurdles that a half-wolf half-human being has to face living in a human society and the decisions they have to make about their lives and who they really are. As the wolf children grow up, they have to find an answer to the question which appearance is the mask they have to wear and which is the real them. In the case of Yuki and Ame, the lines they decide to draw are thick and their choices seem to be either black or white – Yuki chooses to live as a human and never change into a wolf, while Ame chooses the life of a wolf, probably never returning back to the human world. The only character that seems to successfully blend between the two worlds – and thus make the most of who he is – is the Wolfman, who works in the city as a human, but is shown to regularly hunt as a wolf. Hosoda shows that even in a country where the wolf is a figure deeply rooted in the native folklore children still read fairy tales where the wolf is demonised and feared. He also shows the lack of understanding of the society and the fear of things it doesn’t understand, which forces our characters to live in isolation for a long time. The movie does not, however, condemn the entire society – it also shows that there are those who are tolerant and open-minded (first Hana, then Souhei).

When I first watched Wolf Children, I felt moved – which is more than can be said about many other titles that I’ve seen over the years. I kept wondering what the story would be like had the Wolfman survived and I was both happy and a little sad about what happened to his children. Happy because they each found their own calling in life and had the freedom to decide who they want to be – and sad because of the way it happened and how neither of them could strike a balance between their inherent dual nature. All in all, however, in my opinion Wolf Children is a movie worth watching for every werewolf fan. The story is interesting, hilarious at times and heart-breaking at others, the animation is fluid and pleasant to the eye (if a little wobbly every now and then), and the orchestral music by Masakatsu Takagi that accompanies  it emphasises the events on-screen and clearly resembles the animated works by Studio Ghibli. Every now and then it is very refreshing to watch a werewolf movie that provides the viewer with a different perspective from the one that has been fed to us for years upon years where werewolves are portrayed as unredeemable villains. So if you’ve got two hours on your hands (yes, that’s how long this movie is) on a weekend evening, Hosoda’s Wolf Children is definitely something to watch.

9.5/10


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Saturday, 8 August 2015

Cinema & TV: Underworld: Evolution (2006) (December 2011 Review)

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Hello and welcome everyone!

Once more I'm afraid I have to bore you with something some of you have probably read before on my other, now disused, blog, The Lycanthropologist's Werewolf Movie Reviews, which has been incorporated into Werewolf Theory's main page. For that I'm sorry, but, as I probably mentioned before, I'm already working on something new to post. In the meantime, however, I will keep adding old articles from the old Werewolf Theory website, just to gather them all in one place. 

At the same time, I hope that those who haven't read my post on Underworld: Evolution before will enjoy my rambling at least a little :)


Since I am now part of Amazon’s Affiliate program, you can support me by purchasing a copy of your own of Underworld: Evolution from Amazon! Should my analysis and review spark your interest in the movie – or should you want to view it yourself before reading this article – please consider renting or buying it using the link provided next to this message. Simply click on the cover of the movie on the right-hand side and you will be sent to Amazon Videos page for this title. Thank you and enjoy!

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This is a cleaned-up, but otherwise unchanged version of the December 2011 review.

Hello and welcome to another dose of shapeshifting extravaganza!

This time with a bit of delay, but still here, as promised we come back to the Underworld series to take a look at the second instalment in the franchise – Underworld: Evolution. It took three years for the creators of the first movie to film a sequel and whether it turned out good or bad for them, we will see soon enough. Looking at the runtime on my player, I can see that the length of the movie has only shortened by 15 minutes, so I guess we’re in for another long review this time. So let’s not waste any time – welcome to

No animals were harmed during the filming of this movie. Werewolves don’t count.

Summary

Michael and Selene are on the run due to the events of the first movie, while Marcus, the sole surviving elder of the vampire coven, awakens and embarks on his own quest to find out the truth of the past events. In order to do that, he seeks Selene’s blood. At the same time, a secret group of humans is trying to track down Michael. Along the way, little by little we learn more about the events that caused the feud between the vampires and the werewolves and find out what outcome the past actions of the protagonists have in the present and what they lead them to. And that’s more or less all I can say without spoiling the plot.

In-depth Analysis & Synopsis

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… Wait, that’s a whole different story! But this movie also opens up with rolling credits that explain to the viewer the background story of what they’re about to see. You know, in case they didn’t see the first movie, the creators thought it would be a nice idea to summarise its plot in those twenty-or-so lines. And they succeeded. While the credits are rolling, we can hear the sounds of battle in the background and are soon transported to…


SKYRIM! Well… no, not exactly. But the age is rather long past, as we follow the events in the year 1202 A.D. In the very first scene, we see Bill Nighy makes a return as Viktor, however, our happiness is short-lived because he features only in the prologue. We can see Viktor, Amelia and Marcus, two former of whom are already dead in the movie’s main storyline, find a village that has been ravaged by Marcus’ brother William, the first and most powerful Lycan, and his minions. It appears that, in spite of being the first Vampire, Marcus is paradoxically not their current leader, why I do not know, since he bows down to Viktor and his judgment. Has it already been so long that the vampires needed to make a rotation? And even if so, why isn’t Marcus asleep then? Unfortunately, as we continue watching the movie, there are no answers given to my questions.


In this universe, it is so that werewolfism apparently works like undeath in the Warcraft series. Those bitten or even killed for that matter by William and his minions, don’t stay dead but come back to life as werewolves. And they do so very fast. Somebody either mixed up lycanthropy with undeath or – knowingly or not – unearthed a very old belief that has all but got pushed out by modern tendencies that people could come back from death as either vampires or werewolves. This belief stemmed from the fact that even after death human nails and hair keep growing still for a while, which created fear in people’s hearts that the buried ones could indeed be still alive, or rather undead. But as a viewer unversed in werewolf lore, this fact is just served on a plate and we are made to believe it and take it merely as a distinction between the ‘William’ breed of Lycans and the Lycans from the main storyline of the movie. Another thing that differentiates these two types of Lycans is their appearance – the William Lycans are a lot more furry than their modern counterparts, but also, as we learn later on, have no control over their bodies, which makes them mindless blood-thirsty beasts that attack everything in sight, just like their leader and creator, William. For this reason the vampires want to capture William, to prevent him and his minions from destroying further villages. They finally find him in the woods nearby and after a demanding struggle eventually manage to restrain him.


Fluffy fellow, isn’t he? He reminds me of the werewolf in Bad Moon, but that’s a story for another time. Just like his minions, William does not transform back into his human form and does not have any control over himself. Unlike his fellow vampires, Marcus is adamant about William being unharmed, still having feelings for his brother in spite of what he’s become. Viktor, who would rather have William killed, then orders for him to be imprisoned for all eternity.

Thus ends the prologue and we come back to the present where once again, like in the first movie, we are welcomed by Selene’s monologue. I get the feeling that I’d prefer it if the movie had stayed the way it was in the prologue… Again, for those who haven’t seen the first movie, we are given flashbacks to what occurred in it. In 2 minutes she gives us a summary of a 2-hour-long movie and I have to say she does it accurately. Her quest now, as she informs us, is to awaken Marcus from hibernation and explain the situation to him before Kraven, our favourite cardboard character from the first movie gets to murder him while he’s still asleep. Along with Michael, she breaks into a vampire interrogation facility where they find a chained dead Lycan who’s supposedly been dead for weeks, yet shows no signs of decay. Sense? None. Also, Michael remarks that he thought Lycans came back to their human forms after death, which Selene agrees to, which is another piece of bullshit right at the start of the movie, because nothing in the previous film showed us any proof they did – every fallen Lycan stayed in their werewolf form and did not change back. Great, 10 minutes into the movie and the plot’s already  inconsistent…

When Selene restocks on weaponry to return to the vampire mansion, Kraven is already there and orders his men to lift the coffin in which Marcus is supposedly sleeping. Much to his disappointment, however, they find it empty as Marcus has already been awakened by the Lycan doctor’s blood.


Oh look, it’s batman! I mean, man-bat… In this form, Marcus erupts from underground and kills off Kraven’s men one by one. Conveniently aware of everything that happened during the events of the first movie due to the blood memory plot point, Marcus does us a favour and disposes of Kraven by slicing his head off. A mediocre end of a mediocre character.

A quarrel between Selene and Michael whether he stays or goes with her after, we are introduced to a third party that plays a more significant role than Michael in the former movie – humans. On their ship at sea, quite luxurious at that, lands a helicopter with a team that then gives a recount of what happened in the first movies from another perspective to their elderly leader who as of yet we don’t know much. It is explained that the witnesses of the underground shoot-out from the beginning of the first movie have been ‘silenced but otherwise unharmed’ (in a way that is not explained). So we needed to wait 3 years for the second movie to clear up plot holes from the first movie. Yeah. The team also appears to have recovered Viktor’s body from the scene of the first movie’s finale, for what purpose we don’t yet know. Also from their report we learn that the awakened Marcus has destroyed the coven and the mansion. So I guess Selene will be confronted with a rather unpleasant surprise when she finds it on fire.

We then see that Marcus has gone on a sight-seeing trip around the city (whose name or location we still don’t know!) to places from the first movie, whether to better understand the memories that have been passed to him or not I can’t tell.

Subsequently, we learn that the human team recovered not only Viktor’s body, but apparently all of the bodies, including that of Lucian and Amelia. The leader of the humans seems distressed when he finds that the amulet Lucian was wearing around his neck is gone and goes on to examine Viktor’s body. From under Viktor’s skin, he extracts an object which looks a bit like a fancy ashtray made of gold, but which resembles something that would very well fit together with Lucian’s amulet. We all like puzzles, right? Especially ones whose parts are hidden away in bodies. Jigsaw would be proud.

Back at the safe house, Michael is having a moral dilemma whether or not to drink artificial blood in order to sustain himself since Selene told him that normal food could prove lethal to him since he’s a hybrid and nobody knows how his body will react. So why make him drink blood if you don’t know what will happen? Michael then decides to pay no heed to Selene’s words, comes out of the hiding place and goes into an inn in a nearby village to order food. While he’s there, I was trying to make out the language the people were speaking, but couldn’t recognize it. By their looks, though, the uniformed men seemed either Russian or Romanian. But that wouldn’t make any sense since the other doctors in the hospital where Michael used to work also spoke English, just like our protagonists. I’m guessing the question of ‘where’ is a too detailed one to ask. Actually, when Michael’s eating, there is a television broadcast in which the presenter is speaking a language that is definitely not English. Why did the other doctor at Michael’s hospital speak English then? Plot convenience? The dissonance between the main characters speaking English and all their surroundings having a totally separate language begins to strike me more and more.

Anyway, after a few bites Michael finds out that his hybrid stomach doesn’t like human food. He throws up and for some reason begins unwillingly transforming into his hybrid form. He fights off the guards who try to capture him since he’s now a wanted person (I don’t know for what reason now because the policemen in the first movie who were also looking for him were put there by the Lycans). At the time, Selene, on her way to the mansion, notices Marcus flying above the treetops in the opposite direction and drops her plans of visiting the coven since the target of her quest has just passed her by. An emergency call from one of the policemen is then intercepted by the humans on the ship and their team is dispatched to Michael’s location. Great, another party is looking for him. I guess that’s all he’s good for. No wonder he’s not there anymore in the upcoming fourth movie.

So just in time, Selene comes to his rescue and saves his behind, but right after they escape one posse, they run into another person wanting to have a word with them. It’s Marcus, who’s caught up with them and who seems to be running an errand of his own among the various subplots. This is sometimes an impression I get of this movie, that every character here acts on their own separate errands, but fortunately for the movie all these errands turn out to be somehow related to the general, superior plotline. It appears that Marcus has embarked on a campaign of his own after learning of Viktor’s and Kraven’s deeds – he suspects that Viktor murdered Selene’s family for a reason, to conceal something from him. In order to learn what it was, Marcus forcefully tries to bite Selene who was the sole survivor of that night, but he is prevented from doing so by Michael packing a bunch of bullets into his head and chest. Running away from Marcus, Selene and Michael hijack a truck on which Michael and Marcus then have a fight in which Marcus attempts to take away Lucian’s amulet from the former. Michael’s hybrid form seems to have evolved in this movie (get it? Evolved) and now looks something like this:


Which is a bit more plausible for a hybrid compared to what he looked like in the first movie, with basically his skin colour being different and him having claws and black eyes. After the fight we learn that Marcus is apparently also a hybrid like Michael. Hah! And the stupid, stupid me thought that he could fly around in a man-bat form maaaaaaybe because he was the BLOODY FIRST AND MOST POWERFUL VAMPIRE. But the question is, why is he a hybrid? Because of the fact he absorbed the Lycan doctor’s blood? But how does that make sense? According to the first movie, only a direct and untainted (a.k.a. human) descendant of Alexander Corvinus was able to mutate into a hybrid after absorbing both the vampire and werewolf virus. The doc even said that Marcus would not be eligible for it because he was already a vampire. So unless they mean a different, unmentioned so far, kind of hybrid, this puts the whole integrity of the first movie’s plot in question.

After a great deal of gunfire and even trying to grind him to a pulp against the cliff wall they finally manage to fend off Marcus, but if that wasn’t enough, the sun is just about to rise and Selene is probably the least happy person in the world about it. Somehow they manage to find an abandoned, it seems, warehouse, but unfortunately it has windows, like most warehouses do. Michael then, in sloooooow-mooootioooooon, throws a sheet-like material over the truck’s windscreen to shield Selene from the sunlight and… proceeds to splash the windows with black paint he found on the workbenches after opening the cans’ lids with his claws. This is so stupid I won’t even begin to describe it, especially that it’s made to look epic and heroic, because he’s trying to save Selene from getting burned to a crisp. HOWEVER, wouldn’t it be MUCH easier if he wrapped her in that big sheet he threw onto the truck and moved her to the closed storeroom he ANYWAY moves her to after he’s done with the windows?? Even more so that he doesn’t manage to cover all the surface of the windows with the paint so there’s still sunlight coming in. But no, he then decides to cover only her head with the sheet and walk her to a nearby cargo container. Anyway, a totally unneeded slow-motion sex-scene follows. Jesus, even the sex-scene, now that I think about it, looks like the sex-scene in the Matrix series. I am so disappointed. Both in the fact you put a sex-scene into this movie totally out of the blue (because we need to have a sex-scene to make the movie more attractive, right? Dayum, you’re grasping.) and that it looks like the one in the second? I think? Matrix movie. I mean, it was obvious that Michael and Selene have something going on between each other, but a fade-out kissing scene would have been enough. What purpose does that scene serve, I mean? To show that vampires, too, can f***? Unless Selene finds out she’s pregnant in the upcoming fourth movie, I call this scene bullshit. Goddammit, it’s been only 37 minutes and there’s already so much bullshit in this movie… Oh, and did I mention Selene apparently has no underwear beneath that latex suit? Ouch, that must be uncomfortable!

As the sun sets yet again, we see then that the human squad from the ship comes to recover the body of the dead Lycan and blow up the interrogation bunker from before. More importantly, Selene accidentally pushes the gem in the centre of Lucian’s medallion, which makes ragged plates pop out at the corners. After that, Selene experiences a vision of children laughing and painting things on a wall of a further unspecified place. One of the girls is seen holding the same amulet in her hand. It is then revealed that those were Selene’s memories as she tells Michael she remembers the amulet from her childhood. Apparently she also has NO further memories at all of her connection to the amulet, nothing about the circumstances in which she came to hold it, nothing about the place, nada.


Because of which the two of them decide to pay a visit to a banished vampire historian who, in spite of being an outcast, seems to be living quite a pleasant life in the company of his vampire mistresses. The only funny and ironic thing about it is that the place where he’s hiding used to be a monastery and that he’s making out with them on the altar. Needless to say, Tannis, for that is his name, is unhappy to see Selene, the one who had once banished him, on his doorstep, so he lures Selene into a trapdoor and unleashes chained werewolves at her and one other at Michael outside. During the fight, Selene kills two of them by stabbing them in the head with a hunting knife. It seems we have fallen quite low from needing to shoot werewolves with silver bullets to stabbing them with knives, haven’t we, Selene? Brain damage seems to be equally effective though, so let’s move on. When Michael deals with the remaining werewolves, Selene takes out the mistresses and finally confronts Tannis. They learn that his Lycan bodyguards were a gift from Lucian who was trading anti-vampire weaponry with Tannis. Damn, there goes my theory of Lycans being smart enough to produce weapons. Goddamn you, you discriminating movie!

As they talk, we see that Marcus goes to feed on horse blood in order to regain some more of his strength. Tannis then informs Selene that Viktor wasn’t the first vampire, “as he has lead us to believe” and that it was Marcus who was the first original vampire… Wait, what? WHAT? THERE IS A WHOLE STORY ABOUT MARCUS AND WILLIAM, THE TWO SONS OF CORVINUS, BEING THE FIRST OF THEIR KINDS REPEATING ITSELF OVER THE COURSE OF TWO MOVIES AND YOU STILL HAVE TO STATE THE OBVIOUS?? How stupid are the vampires? They seriously adopted Viktor’s word for him being the first vampire as truth without any question? With Marcus alive? And over the span of so many centuries no-one completely thought about asking? No-one had doubts? BULLSHIT. So anyway, the legend proves to be true and we learn that it was Marcus who offered Viktor to become a vampire, the latter in return lending Marcus an army of vampires so that he could defeat his twin brother, William. Asked why the captured William was left alive, Tannis answers that Viktor feared that killing either William or Marcus would lead to the death of all those in their bloodline, meaning, basically all werewolves and vampires. Or at least that’s what Viktor made everyone believe, but at the same time was too afraid to put to a test.


We then learn that it was Selene’s father who was commissioned by Viktor to build a special prison in order to contain William and that’s the reason why Selene has memories of her connection to Lucian’s medallion. Her family was murdered years later when Lucian escaped from under the vampire rule, because her father knew the exact location of the prison and Lucian was in possession of the medallion – the key to its opening. That said, Selene is the last living person who knows the location of the prison, not consciously, but the memory is stored away in her blood, which is the reason why Marcus is now after her. By the way, what unsettles me in those flashbacks is that, since Selene’s father was ginger and she is shown as a fair-haired girl, how come she has such jet-black hair now? I mean, I used to have much lighter hair as a kid, but that’s a bit too much of stretching it. Were you really unable to find a pretty dark-haired girl at the time, guys? Tannis then tells Selene he doesn’t know why exactly Marcus is looking for William’s prison now, but that he knows someone who might and they agree to arrange a meeting. When Selene and Michael are off, Tannis has yet a new guest visiting, this one even more troublesome than the previous – Marcus. As we can expect, Marcus learns everything that has happened by sucking out Tannis’ blood and is now also headed to the ship of Lorenz Macaro.

Selene shows the medallion-key to Lorenz Macaro, who is not really who he seems. Seeing the signet on his hand, Selene connects the dots in her mind and comes to a conclusion that Macaro is, in fact, none other than Alexander Corvinus – the first immortal of legends. He then explains how for centuries, he’s the one who’s been cleaning up ‘the mess’ after his two sons, but was never able to put a stop to it because of his fatherly love for them. Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Marcus in his man-bat form who decides to take revenge on Michael first for their fight on the truck and so he IMPALES him on the metal railings on the pier where the ship is docking and takes away Lucian’s medallion. Seeing this, Selene becomes enraged but is no match for Marcus who then gorges himself in her blood, learning the location of William’s prison. After Marcus flies away, Selene desperately tries to save Michael by pouring her blood into his wounds but it seems to have no effect. Wait… he’s dead? The most powerful of all, a vampire-werewolf hybrid got owned like a little bitch just like that? Let me just say this in his memory – Michael died as he lived – A SIDEKICK MINOR CHARACTER. At least that’s one thing out of the way, rejoice! Because come on, this story was never about him. He was just a subplot throughout.

While Selene’s moping, Marcus comes to pay a visit to his father. He complains to him how he let William ‘suffer alone in darkness’ for the last 500 years and wants Viktor’s key. Since Corvinus is unwilling to give it to him, afraid of the world being overrun by William’s breed of werewolves, it takes Marcus to skewer his father with his own sword to take it away from him. At the same time, Marcus states he wants to become the god of a new world in which there will be no distinction between vampires and werewolves, only hybrids. Great, another hybrid-obsessed character, just what we needed… So the dying Corvinus refuses accepting medical help from his subordinates and decides he’s tired with the world and prefers to leave it just as he is most needed, but first orders for Selene to see him. He then offers his blood to her, saying that by drinking it she will become the future and apparently will have less trouble in defeating Marcus. After that, she leaves with Corvinus’ squad on a helicopter to the location of the prison (which I guess she now remembers all of a sudden? Or she sucked it out with Corvinus’ blood? See, it’s not stated in the movie.). Also, apparently Michael is NOT DEAD because she took him with them and seems relieved after checking for his heartbeat. And there I was so happy that the movie finally corrected one of its biggest mistakes… So as they approach the ruins of a big castle in the mountains where William’s prison is located, Selene remembers about there being an underwater passage leading inside it.

In sleep he sang to me, in dreams he came… That voice which calls to me and speaks my name… And do I dream again? For now I find the Phantom of the Opera is there, inside my mind.

Since there is nowhere a helicopter can land, that is the course of action the squad decides on. Fortunately, with their versatility they are prepared for any kind of circumstances. I bet they’d have suits for swimming in lava too on that chopper. They also equip their guns only with UV-rounds – not like there will be a werewolf there if Marcus manages to free William, will there?

Well, guess what, totally unexpectedly, Marcus is already there, ready to free the werewolf dummy, I mean, William. William, however, doesn’t seem too happy that his brother has come to free him and charges at him, I think much to Marcus’ disappointment. He must have been an idiot if knowing that his brother is a mindless beast and having seen the havoc he wrought upon the townsfolk back in the 13th century he still hoped that maybe, just maybe William developed human feelings and most of all conscience over the span of those 500 years of total darkness.

After all this time, William could probably use a mint or two…
By the way, why the hell is his head so goddamn BIG? I mean, look at him, he’s totally disproportional. His torso is short, his hands are short and his legs are long, but the head makes him look as though he could collapse under its weight at any moment. Oh, did I mention he also has blank eyes? What, is he blind or something? Why, just why? So that he looks more creepy? Well, with such a big head he looks more grotesque than scary. Also, Marcus, that hand of yours might not be enough to keep him at a distance…

When Selene and the humans arrive at the Scene of the Movie’s Finale, Marcus is already done with freeing William. The squad is then ambushed both by William and Marcus and for a moment the movie turns into Dog Soldiers… But that’s also a story for a different occasion.

William would hereby like to say hello to the werewolf from “Bad Moon”
Selene then fights Marcus, showing him that she is now stronger than before thanks to Alexander Corvinus’ blood, but she still resorts to gunfire as the tool that solves all problems. Well, as if she hasn’t learned that lesson ten times over before, it does not. Using Viktor’s key, she manages to separate Marcus by closing the prison door in front of him. Imperfectly, though, because some fallen rocks happen to prevent the door from being shut completely, which later on will enable Marcus to escape. In the meantime, we see that Michael regenerates and comes back to his senses on board the helicopter. During that time, the soldiers are then caught in a trap and are rendered helpless because they only brought UV-rounds. Because preparing for the worst scenario in which Marcus manages to free William is STUPID. If I were Selene, I would have only one thing to say to this:


So one by one, the soldiers get wiped out by William (man, this really is like Dog Soldiers) until it’s just him and Selene. Again, gunfire doesn’t do much about the werewolf, but I guess that the scenes where Selene reloads her magazines by hitting the guns against each other was the reason for this whole shooting scene. In an attempt to defeat William, Selene blows a great hole in the ceiling of the castle, which will become important in a moment. When William escapes, Selene salvages a new gun from her fallen companions. Because in these movies almost all vampires are useless without guns. However, a new problem arises. Remember that plot point about original lycanthropy being like undeath? Well, the makers of the movie also now remembered about it and all the soldiers that were just killed by William now come back to life and transform into werewolves.


Great. In the first movie we had gargoyle-werewolves. Now we have CGI gorilla-werewolves. I apologise I ever said a bad word about the gargoyle-werewolves… Anyway, while this is happening, Michael gets back on his feet and, literally, dives into the action from the helicopter through the hole Selene made in the roof, conveniently. Their sweet reunion is interrupted by the Voice of the Audience, I mean, William who appears out of the blue and attacks Michael. Well, maybe he’s just jealous. At the same time I am tortured by the stock sounds used in William’s roar since I’ve heard them so many times before it makes me want to puke. When William is slowly overwhelmed by gunfire from Selene and the guys in the chopper (Michael is useless again), Marcus finally gets out of the prison and joins in the fight and does the one most awesome thing in this movie – he pulls down the helicopter by the chain on which Michael jumped down into the castle, aiming it at Selene.

He tried to kill me with a... chopper!
Compared to that, singing “He tried to kill me with a fork-lift” seems pretty unimpressive. Also, damn those blades are made of diamond – they cut through everything, rock, metal, wood, and they keep going! So then Michael takes on William under the bridge while Selene fights Marcus above them. Also, Marcus seems to have lost his wings somewhere, don’t know where and why, but he did. As always, Michael gets his ass kicked by William before he does a Matrix jump behind the werewolf and rips his head off with his bare hands. An ungrateful death for someone who’s spend 500 years confined in a prison on the backside of beyond and been released only about 15 minutes before. And in addition, he got killed off by a mediocre character like Michael. This, obviously, angers Marcus who suddenly remembers he can sprout wings and having done that he skewers Selene with one of them. But as she is stronger now, she snaps the wing in two and stabs Marcus through the jaw and the head with its other part, subsequently pushing Marcus into the propeller which turns him into salsa. Conveniently, this proves to be as much as the propeller can take, because just after that it creaks and stops spinning. Plot convenience, hoooo!

So then the sun rises on the whole scene, where the first vampire and first werewolf are dead and gone, so the viewers are faced with a question of whether or not the bloodlines have been severed. Rays of sunlight fall on Selene’s hand without burning her, but she hasn’t become a human, she’s still a vampire, a daywalker now it seems thanks to Corvinus’ blood. With a kiss that would have been a sufficient replacement for the sex-scene, the movie ends with music that reminds me of the Matrix and Selene’s monologue again in which she foretells of an ‘unknown chapter’ that lies ahead – a continuation. Roll credits.

Impressions & Evaluation

Where do I start… I have seen Underworld: Evolution at least three times now, but however much I try I just can’t get myself to like it. I never thought I’d say this, but the first movie was actually better than this one in spite of its being a werewolf version of The Matrix. Obviously, this movie doesn’t have annoying characters like Kraven, but Kraven’s place seems to have been taken by Michael who is the most useless of all the characters. From what I felt, he serves the purpose of Selene’s sidekick and obligatory love interest, a guard dog that goes everywhere with her and gets beat up over it. He’s supposed to be the most powerful creature of all, since he’s a hybrid, yet he can’t hold his own in a real fight, his victories being more lucky than achieved through power and skill. If he had any personality in the first movie, in the sequel he seems to have lost all of it. He’s there because he needs to be there, because the story has obviously already turned all the way towards Selene as the protagonist and it is her story that makes people want to watch the movie. Michael is just a fly on the wall in comparison.

There is a lot more CGI here than in the first movie, especially when it comes to expendable werewolves, but William’s model and Marcus’ man-bat form are mainly physical, which is good. Oh, and did I mention that there is NO modern-day Lycans in this movie? Everyone seems to have totally forgotten about Lucian’s followers, who, in turn, seem to have vanished into thin air after his death. I guess incorporating a Lycan-related subplot would only confuse the movie when it’s already trying to show us everything at the same time. Or maybe that’s something Mr Len Wiseman left to expand in the fourth movie.

When it comes to the music, there’s not much of it again, and if there is any it’s not something that would create a lasting impression on the viewer. If someone asked me to hum some music from Underworld I’d probably reply: “What music?” Apart from that, there seem to be a lot more plot inconsistencies and flops in the sequel than in the first movie, some of them quite hilarious and embarrassing. Also, plot convenience seems to be creeping more and more inside, which is a very bad thing a movie can allow. I know nothing beats werewolves running on walls, but let’s be serious. Oh, and you know what this movie lacks? Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen. Their places have been taken by Derek Jacobi (Alexander Corvinus) and Tony Curran (Marcus) however, whose performance I gotta say I like. Along with Selene, they’re the main characters of the movie, but as it eventually turns out (second movie in a row) the two other main characters apart from Selene are in the end expendable.

What I will give the Underworld movies credit for is a plotline that is more complex than most of other werewolf movies, which makes it distinct. That’s a plus. However, even with a good idea, if the execution goes wrong at some point, it cannot be viewed as a pearl. All in all, Underworld: Evolution is an action movie if by action you understand pretty women in latex suits firing countless rounds from machine guns in order to kill vampires and werewolves. When I put it like that, it smells like Van Helsing. Though, wait, they didn’t have guns there, did they? Never mind. The one thing that is better in the sequel though is the fact that the amount of Matrix references and look-alike scenes has dropped significantly compared to the first movie. But however you look at it, it’s still Selene-Trinity shooting monsters. So if you felt like you wasted two hours of your life after watching Underworld, then this movie is definitely not for you.

6/10




And that’s about it for the month, thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed what you read and as always feel free to submit comments, suggestions below, vote in the poll. You can always subscribe to updates by email, add me to your favourites, or follow me on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/MangBloodrage. At the same time I would like to wish you all a merry, merry Christmas and a happy new year. And if you’re not planning on partying, I hope you spend it pleasantly with some nice werewolf movies. And after that, we’ll be back in January with a review of the third instalment in the Underworld series, this time a prequel to the main storyline, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.

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