After more than five years away from the ‘Underworld’ universe, Kate Beckinsale returns in the role that confirmed her as not just another good actress with a pretty face but an action star who could kick ass with the best of them. Last seen in 2005’s ‘Underworld: Evolution’, Beckinsale once again dons the latex armor of Selene, the former Death Dealer and lycan killing machine as she takes on her species newest, and greatest, enemy: humans.
ACTION FILLED PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD!!!
For those new to the ‘Underworld’ franchise, flashbacks are used to tell the more pertinent aspects of the first three films. We are then thrown into a documentary/news-type feed chronicling the greatest threat the world’s ever seen. Though not specific on how it actually happened, humanity has discovered the existence of both lycans and vampires. Banding together like no other time in history, the human forces search out and eradicate those “infected” with extreme prejudice. This ‘Purge’, as it is called is equally crippling to both species and, at the height of the mayhem, Selene and Michael ready to leave the city and go into hiding. Selene is in vintage form during this planned escape, giving no quarter to the human soldiers intent on destroying her kind. Her body count in all its glorious brutality surpasses double digits by the ten minute mark and is a highlight of the movie. She is brutal and efficient, dispatching enemies within a dance of violent precision. It’s vintage Selene and it brings the viewer directly into the conflict and what’s to come with feral anticipation.
Back to the events, she and Michael (scarcely viewed as Scott Speedman does not reprise his role as hybrid and Selene’s lover) are ambushed at the harbor and end up being cryogenically frozen. Fast forward twelve years when Selene is awakened from her sleep with no idea what has happened to her. Taking out another half dozen guards on her way out of Antigen, the company attempting to find a vaccine for the ‘infection’ she makes it to the streets, following visions of scenes she cannot explain. These visions lead her to the sewers and David, a vampire from an underground coven. They eventually find a young girl, only known as Test Subject 2, who ends up being Selene’s daughter, Eve (relative newcomer India Eisley). Selene is stunned at the revelation and is unable to express anything other than the need to carry the child to safety as they are accosted by a pack of lycans in a chase scene reminiscent of the first ‘Spider-Man’ where Peter Parker leapt from car to car in pursuit of his uncle’s killer. It’s during this chase where Selene realizes the girl’s true hybrid nature.
David, played by Theo James, is kind enough to lead mother and daughter to his coven’s hidden lair, actions that his father and coven leader, Thomas (veteran Charles Dance0, is none to happy with. But David has his own motives for inviting Selene into his coven’s abode; he knows that running isn’t good enough and sooner or later the fight will come to them and Selene’s abilities as a warrior could be instrumental in teaching the vampires how to fight and not just survive on the run. Thomas is put off by this line of thinking and Selene’s incursion into their nest, especially when he discovers the girl’s true nature as a hybrid. His fears are realized when a horde of lycans storm their lair, led by a creature far superior in size, speed and strength than anything Selene’ has ever seen and it’s anything but natural. Successful in capturing Eve, Selene enlists the aid of Detective Sebastian (played by ‘Takers’ Michael Ealy). From him, Selene finds there’s something not quite right going on with Antigen and when we discover that it and Dr. Lane’s (Stephen Rea from ‘V for Vendetta’ and ‘The Crying Game’) motives are more nefarious than altruistic.
The movie’s climactic last act isn’t quite as satisfying as the last three installments. While a fan of the automatic handguns Selene flaunts out akimbo-style, her hand-to-hand bad assery is missed, not to mention the ridiculously unending magazine clips of said guns. That being said, her final fight with the super lycan is thoroughly entertaining, with much of the fight being our kick as heroine being thrown, quite literally from pillar to post before using a bit of trickeration to defeat the muscled monstrosity. Running parallel, though not nearly as engaging is Eve’s fight with her own opponent, a semi-hybrid quite similar to her father Michael but nowhere near as deadly.
Opponents defeated, Eve discovers her father’s awake through their psychic bond though they aren’t able to get to him before he retreats the facility. In what is a definitive opening for a sequel, Selene proclaims that not only will they find Michael but vampires will take the fight to humanity and take their place as rightful rulers.
Despite the high action, wonderful special effects and the familiar ‘Underworld’ brutality showcased in the first ten minutes, ‘Underworld: Awakening’ is a surprising disappointment. The most egregious of errors is the paltry runtime. With an action movie whose plot is pretty decent if not a tad complicated, there’s no chance to flesh out supporting characters, relationships, or the potentially intriguing plot in eighty-eight minutes. At worst, an extra thirty minutes would have given the writers time to organically facilitate the bond between Selene and Eve as well as the bitter discord between David and his father, Thomas. As it was, the entire production seemed rushed to the screen, and more of an afterthought than a welcome contribution to the franchise. To further that argument, the 3D aspect was useless. While it may have been the screen I was at or the glasses I was given, unlike ‘Thor’ and ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon, 3D’ added no value to the movie experience.
Despite the major shortcomings, there were some positives garnished from the movie. As always, Kate Beckinsale fit into her character (and accompanying latex) like an old glove. Even better, she displayed a new dimension to Selene; tenderness. Again, another thirty minutes could have even further explored the dynamics of Selene’s emotional trauma but we have to make due with the snippets there for the taking. Theo James’ David is a welcome addition to the cast, and displays his own brand of choreographic slash and bash. Though at times too frenetic and reliant on gunplay, the action scenes were, for the most part, on par with previous installments. The visual effects were also quite good when not blurred by the rudimentary attempts to incorporate 3D into the movie.
Oh what could have been! ‘Underworld: Awakening’ held so much promise, especially considering its previous ventures onto the big screen. Where the elements for a worthy addition to the franchise were in place, the lack of execution and inability to flesh out the story was its primary downfall. Were this a stand alone movie, I wouldn’t give it a second chance, but it’s not; it’s part of the ‘Underworld’ universe, one that I have fallen in love with and with that, there is enough action and Kate for me to give it another chance when it comes to Blu-Ray. I just hope that a second viewing doesn’t have me relegating it to an “it never happened” mantra a la ‘X-Men: Last Stand’. Here’s hoping the next addition brings the franchise back to its former glory the same way ‘X-Men: First Class did for the ‘X-Men’.