January 21, 2012 by Paul Curtin
Vampires vs. werewolves or “lycans.” A premise that was unique and fresh eight years ago when the original Underworld hit theaters and helped launch the career of Kate Beckinsale with her breakout role as Selene, a skin-tight leather-wearing, werewolf-slaying, vampire heroine. But after the last disappointing prequel that was sans Beckinsale and four terrible Twilight movies since then, the whole vampires vs. werewolves idea already seems done to death. Underworld: Awakening marks the return of Kate Beckinsale to the series without husband Len Wiseman behind the camera. So is Kate’s awakening enough to help revive the hurting series or is this another franchise that needs to be offed like Twilight?
Starting off six months after the events of the second film (Underworld: Evolution), Awakening‘s plot revolves around humans becoming aware of both vampires and lycans and as a result beginning a worldwide “purging” in order to wipe out both species. Right from the start, Selene is captured along with her hybrid lover Michael, and the two are frozen in captivity by a pharmaceutical company for research. After being frozen for twelve years, Selene is broken free by a teenage girl who she discovers is her hybrid daughter bred in the same lab and who shares similar vampire-lycan powers to Michael.
The story isn’t bad so much as it is bland. It’s the same story you would get from watching any of the previous Underworld movies but the twist of Selene and Michael now having offspring that turns out to be a teenage girl — which was the last thing the series needed. The Underworld series should be doing everything it can to distance itself from tween drama Twilight, not adding younger cast members. Beckinsale nails her role as if she never left, but other new characters seem empty due to their lack of any sort of background, and the only other character still alive from previous movies is barely shown at all with the use of archived footage and a prop dummy.
With a budget of $80 million that far exceeds any of the previous movies — the original was made for $22 mil. — relatively unknown directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein were able to make up for the weak story with some pretty enjoyable action scenes and realistic human-to-lycan transformations. The effects can be hit-or-miss, but the addition of a new massive lycan and continued use of blue tint keep the visuals entertaining and unique looking. What’s also appealing is while there is the addition of a new teenage character, she’s far more disturbing than anything you’ll find in Twilight and turns into a beast who literally rips people apart throughout the movie. Thankfully, the series has kept its R rating so it can stay true to its history of violence that contains plenty of brutal throat rips, headshots, and even some decapitations.
The series has also jumped on the 3D bandwagon, and like most other movies throwing in 3D to help ticket gross, the extra 3D effects add little. There are some scenes with debris and other objects thrown in your face, but for the most part, you’ll be better off saving your money and putting it towards seeing next week’s superior-looking wolf film, The Grey. To Underworld‘s credit, the movie was shot in 3D, and surprisingly the 3D doesn’t hurt the brightness of the picture that much even with about 95% of the story taking place at night. So the choice really comes down to what’s more important to you: a cheaper ticket price and brighter picture or a more expensive darker viewing experience that consists of occasional objects flying in your face. I could have definitely gone without the 3D, especially since a single ticket can end up costing you anywhere from $14 to $20. I ended up paying $19.50 for the non-IMAX 3D version. (F you, ArcLight Hollywood! Never again!)
Like the very similar milked Resident Evil movie series, after seeing the first Underworld, I was intrigued and left wanting more. Going into the fourth Underworld I found myself excited for Beckinsale’s return; however, as the movie played out I could have cared less where its underwhelming story was going and got the feeling that those behind the scenes must feel the same way. Awakening isn’t as good or fresh as when the Underworld series first debuted, but it’s better than the last film and sure as hell still way better than Twilight. Underworld: Awakening gets 3 out of 5 stars (Good).
- Kate Beckinsale is back and still hot, still wearing skin-tight suits, and still kicking ass
- Enjoyable action sequences that make use of average 3D effects
- Stays true to the Underworld series’ look and feel with plenty of violence
- Weak story that fails to create much interest for another movie
- Most of the new characters feel empty compared to previous actors who haven’t returned