BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
JANUARY 23, 2012
“Underworld: Awakening” is the fourth installment in the “Underworld” series and the franchise’s third film to star Kate Beckinsale as the death-dealer vampiress, Selene. The age of the ass-kicking actresses is upon us. Kate Beckinsale, Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Charlize Theron, and Gina Carano are all bashing skulls and taking names. How fitting that we’re approaching one hundred years since women’s suffrage in the United States?
Selene awakens (seriously, no pun intended, though I sincerely 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 survived the purge of vampires and Lycans. Her immediate goal is to locate Michael (Scott Speedman) so that they can continue their “escape” interrupted at the start of the film, resembling “Resident Evil: 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. Using tracking from this newfound ability, she finds it is not him but a young girl, Eve (India Eisley), who also has hybrid powers and huge plot implications.
The first Act draws you in but takes the previous plots of “Resident Evil” and substitutes zombies for vampires and Lycans. The lack of familiar faces in the franchise is a serious problem (as most of them are dead), therefore starting entirely anew. Trying to sell new characters is much more difficult in an original franchise, unlike “Resident Evil,” which can pull out well-known characters from the video game lore, to which fans can immediately latch. “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. An attack on the coven allows us to discover the newest Lycan villain, the Lycan-juggernaut, who is enormous compared to his fellow werewolf brethren. I commend the writers for simply giving us a taste of the juggernaut and then allowing 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 quickly becomes my favorite portion of the film. When we get a colossal reveal involving the film’s villain, human doctor Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea), 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 people knew that Scott Speedman would not be returning for this film, why make him a considerable 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 hope to see Michael at some point. Instead, we believe we might see Michael when in reality, we know full well that we definitely will not (save for glimpses from a distance and through the ice).
As far as action films go, “Underworld: Awakening” packs enough of a punch to be entertaining. Unfortunately, it lacks engaging plots or moving storylines. 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 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 the end of “Awakening” was masterfully crafted. Now, if only the entire movie could have followed suit.
January 20, 2012
J. Michael Straczynski
(for strong violence and gore, and some language)