The fact that I liked Underworld: Awakening says more about me than it does about the filmmakers. I have to admit that up front, for I want you to read this review all the way to the end. From my perspective, the first and second chapters of the series were needlessly complicated and nearly impossible to keep pace with. The prequel film, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, was much more palatable, not only because it achieved the right look for the material, but also because it told a much more focused story that explained many of the mysterious plot elements. Now we have a fourth chapter, and although it’s about as lasting as dust in the wind, I think it represents what the series should have been right from the start: An escapist supernatural action thriller that gives us license to put our brains on autopilot.
One of the things the filmmakers did right was strip away all the unnecessarily detailed back stories that bogged down the first and second films. Reduced in time from over two hours to just under ninety minutes, we have a singular story that’s easy to follow and process. It begins immediately after the events of Underworld: Evolution; the vampire Death Dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and her lover, the hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman), are on the run after humans somehow became aware of the centuries-old war between the vampires and lycans. It was never adequately explained how the war was kept hidden from humanity for all those years, and it’s left a little obscure when and how they found out about it, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. An underwater explosion separates the two, and the next thing Selene knows, she’s being awakened from a cryogenic sleep. She will soon discover that she’s being held prisoner in a lab, and that twelve years have passed.
Why was she being held prisoner? It seems that humans decided to wage war on all supernatural beings once their existence was made public. A television montage tells us that one of the world’s governments declared martial law, after which armies oversaw a cleansing – an event referred to throughout the film as The Purge. As to whether or not this took place all over the world is something the film doesn’t bother to address, which is just as well since Selene is the real subject of the story. Anyway, it now appears the lycans are all but extinct, reduced to a handful of diseased scavengers in underground dwellings. Furthermore, very few vampire covens are left. Any remaining creatures are either eradicated on site or unwillingly become the subjects of medical experiments. This is how we find Selene, where she has been dubbed Subject #1.
As soon as she awakens, she discovers she has the ability to see through the eyes of another creature, the one that set her free. Alas, it isn’t her beloved Michael. It’s an adolescent girl named Eve (India Eisley), who, like Michael, is a vampire/lycan hybrid. Could she be Selene’s daughter? This possibility is generally accepted by the characters, although that raises a number of logistical questions that are frankly too intelligent for the likes of this story. For the sake of time and energy, let us assume that she is indeed Selene’s daughter and move on with the story. Eve, known by lab technicians as Subject #2, has been the pet project of Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea), the head scientist for a major bioengineering company; true to form of doctors in movies like this, he wants to use Eve’s DNA for his own nefarious purposes.
Awakening is not as visually noteworthy as its three predecessors, perhaps because the tone has been altered to be more in line with sci-fi medical thrillers like the Resident Evil films. Having said that, many of the series’ stylistic touches remain, not the least of which are the scenes of relentless action and special effects. Like her trademark skintight black leather suit, Beckinsale is almost never seen without a gun in each hand; she will repeatedly shoot at things, mostly lycans, and we will marvel at the number of bullets a single handgun can hold. When a gun isn’t within reach, she will arm herself with a knife and use her super speed to run through lines of people, slitting them to death. And of course, she continues to flaunt her ability to jump from very high points and land smoothly.
Apart from Eve and Dr. Lane, other new characters are introduced. These would include: David (Theo James), a vampire who takes in Selene and Eve and is eager to fight for the future of all vampires; David’s father, Thomas (Charles Dance), who isn’t as eager to fight; and Detective Sebastian (Michael Ealy), a human who has personal reasons for helping Selene when Eve is kidnapped by a pack of genetically altered lycans. None of them are particularly well developed, but then again, they didn’t really need to be. More of note is the fact that Underworld: Awakening is the first of the series to be released in 3D. Because the film was actually shot that way and not converted in post production, I found it to be effective, if somewhat dim (although not as dim as I had expected, which was a pleasant surprise). There’s certainly no harm in seeing it that way, although I don’t think the experience will be lessened if you save your money and see it in 2D.
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