While I find the Underworld films reasonably enjoyable, I have never been overly impressed with them. They are after all, just popcorn fluff, with the original being essentially a mere Matrix rip-off. That said, they do have an interesting take on Vampire and Werewolf lore, with a thoroughly fleshed-out back-story that helps to inform the characters’ motivations. Also, as a man, I can’t deny that seeing Kate Beckinsale running around in a skin-tight PVC catsuit and leather corset has an attraction all of its own.
However, the problem with this series so far is that the characters within lack any real emotional depth. The die-hard Underworld fans will obviously argue against this, citing that as the characters are not human, they don’t express emotions in the way humans do. Be that as it may, the fact remains that the audience is human, therefore require that emotional investment, otherwise we just will not care about what happens to the characters. Because of this I was surprised that a fourth film had been made, especially as the third movie was more of a spin-off/prequel, designed solely to explore the root of the centuries old Vampire-Lycan feud. I was also taken aback to dicover that Beckinsale had also returned, reprising her role as Death-Dealer, Selene. This gave me reason to raise my expectations. Therefore I ditched my preconceptions and planned to give Underworld: Awakening the benefit of the doubt.
This installment picks up the story shortly after the events of the second film in the series, Underworld: Evolution. The Humans have discovered the existence of the Vampires and Lycans and have organised a cull of both species. We join Selene and her Vampire-Lycan Hybrid Lover, Michael, as they try to escape the Human threat. Despite an intense defensve battle, the Humans gain the upper-hand, capture Selene and apparently kill Michael. Next we see Selene waking up inside a cryogenic stasis chamber and shortly after escaping the hands of her captors, who it turns out are a private corporation called Antigen. It soon transpires that Antigen were using Selene to find an antidote to the virus responsible for both Vampirism and Lycanism. Furthermore, it seems that Selene is not the only escapee and she shares an empathic link with this other test subject. Selene soon discovers that she was held in cryostasis for twelve years, and shortly after this revelation she meets David (Theo James), a Vampire and member of a Coven who have a hideaway at a nearby dam. David helps Selene track down the other test subject, which turns out to be a young Hybrid girl named Eve (India Eisley) and together they seek sanctuary with the Vampire Coven. As this story progresses the Lycans emerge, seemingly more powerful than ever. We also discover Eve’s origin as well as finding that Antigen are not all that they first appeared to be.
As I stated earlier in this review, I was willing to give this movie a chance and try to ignore my preconceived ideas about it. Unfortunately this is the worst film in an already average series of movies. There is very little in the way of storyline and besides the barrage of action sequences, not a lot actually happens. Also, the film suffers with the same lack of emotion I commented about earlier, which is prevalent throughout the previous films. Added to which, some of the performances are less than convincing, in particular those of Theo James and Michael Ealy (who plays the almost pointless character of Detective Sebastian). That said the film does continue a trend set by the previous movies, by having well-respected actors such as Charles Dance and Stephen Rea amongst the cast (the other films featured Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen and Sir Derek Jacobi in major roles).
I saw this movie in Imax 3D which while impressive, especially when small pieces of shattered glass are flying about the screen, it doesn’t really add anything to the film. Besides, I have a personal issue with the ridiculous act of wearing dark glasses indoors with the lights down low. That aside though, the effects are pretty good and are in keeping with the rest of the series, as is the tone and overall look of the film. So in terms of consistencey and continuity, Directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein have been successful. The locations and sets are well designed but appear bland when compared to the grand, gothic structures seen in the previous films.
Another problem these films suffer with is that while they are a combination of Horror and Action cinema, the Horror element generally suffers, with there being almost no genuinely scary moments (a problem the similar Resident Evil franchise also exhibits). However, the linchpin of these movies is Beckinsale as Selene. While her central performance is adequate, her character doesn’t appear to have developed much since the first film. The result of this is a character who just appears to be going through the motions, which, without a decent plot, is exactly what the movie does. It may satisfy fans of the series but other than that, the average moviegoer should possibly give it a wide berth and wait for it to arrive on TV.