|January 20, 2012|
|J. Michael Straczynski|
|Action, Fantasy, Horror
Rated R for strong violence and gore, and for some language
Underworld: Awakening is the fourth installment in the Underworld series and the third film of the franchise to star Kate Beckinsale as the death-dealer vampiress, Selene. The age of the ass-kicking actresses is upon us. Not only is Kate Beckinsale taking part, but Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Charlize Theron, and most recently, Gina Carano are all out there bashing skulls and taking names as well. Go figure that we’re approaching one hundred years since women’s suffrage in the United States.
Selene awakens (seriously no pun intended, though I deeply hope this is not where the title of the film came from) from a frozen state, not unlike Alice (Milla Jovovich) waking up connected to tubes in a medical facility in Resident Evil. Just as Alice survived the zombie attack on Raccoon City, Selene has survived the purge on vampires and Lycans. Her immediate goal is to locate Michael (Scott Speedman) so that they can continue their “escape” that is interrupted at the start of the film, also resembling RE:Apocalypse in which Alice searches for Matt Addison, though unaware that Matt has become the Nemesis program. As with most sequels, we must add the obligatory “new” powers, which is Selene’s ability to see through whom we assume to be Michael’s eyes. Tracking with this new found ability, she finds it is not him and instead a young girl, Eve (India Eisley) who also has hybrid powers and huge plot implications.
The first Act draws you in, but basically takes the previous plots of Resident Evil and substitutes zombies for vampires and Lycans. A huge problem stemming from Underworld: Awakening is the lack of familiar faces in the franchise (as most of them have been killed off), therefore starting completely anew. Trying to sell new characters is much more different in a franchise that is not based on anything, unlike Resident Evil, that can pull out well-known characters from the video game lore, which fans can immediately latch onto. Underworld: Awakening fights that character battle throughout the entire film, never really allowing the audience to fully feel at one with any of the characters besides Selene.
David (Theo James), a vampire who has survived the purge, brings Selene and Eve back to his coven, despite the rules set forth by his elders. When the coven is attacked, we discover the newest Lycan villain, the Lycan-juggernaut, who is enormous in size compared to his fellow werewolf brethren. I do commend the writers for simply giving us a taste of the juggernaut and then allowing for this first battle to dissipate, building towards a much more rewarding finale.
The rest of the film is filler leading up to the Resolution, which easily becomes my favorite portion of the film. It is when we get a huge reveal involving the villain of the film, human doctor Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea), that the film lands on the up-and-up. With Eve captured by the doctor, Selene returns to impossible odds, and faces off with the Lycan-juggernaut in one last epic battle sequence.
I will end on a reflective question that caused me annoyance with the film and its writers. If it was publicly known that Scott Speedman would not be returning for this film, why make him a huge subject of the plot? For once I wouldn’t have minded if they had recast the part, or found a way to explain his changing appearance, as it would have at least given some hope to see Michael at some point. Instead, we are fed this story that we might see Michael, when in reality, we know full well that we definitely will not (save for glimpses from a distance and through ice).
As far as action films go, Underworld: Awakening packs enough of a punch to be entertaining. As far as engaging plots or moving story-lines, the fourth Underworld film carries anything but. My biggest complaint towards Underworld and Underworld: Evolution is their striking resemblance to the Resident Evil franchise. Underworld: Awakening is no different. The sad truth is that we basically start the film where it ends, with very little resolve, just more bruises and an open-end to facilitate the next sequel. The film’s only saving grace is its culmination. An action film is only as good as its final battle and Awakening’s end was masterfully crafted. Now if only the entire film could have followed suit.