There’s a moment late in Underworld: Awakening where a good dozen security guards are confronting a vampire with a shotgun. They all have guns, of course, but after a perfunctory fusillade of shots aimed his way, they simply give up on bullets and decide to run at him, despite the fact that a: he still has a shotgun and b: he’s a vampire and thus much stronger than they are. He, of course, slaughters them to a man, eventually running out of shells and using his shotgun as a bludgeon. It’s ridiculous, but possibly looks somewhat cooler than a firefight would. In that, it’s a decent summation of this latest Underworld movie as a whole, in which nothing can ever be done simply or efficiently if the alternative is to do it elaborately or as over-the-top as possible. It’s a deeply silly movie, and largely seems to function as a bit of a reboot for the series as a whole, but fans of werewolves and vampires ripping each other to shreds will likely wring at least some marginal amount of thrills out of it.
That reboot factor comes into play when you consider that Awakening takes place a full twelve years or more after the events of Underworld: Evolution; humanity has suddenly become aware of the existence of lycans and vampires, and has almost completely hunted both species to extinction. The bulk of the familiar faces from the first two films in the series (Rise Of The Lycans having been an entirely pointless prequel tale) were of course slaughtered by the end of Evolution, leaving just Selene and Michael as the remaining prominent characters. Having been captured and kept in a science facility for the bulk of those years, she’s unfrozen from her cell and escapes, alongside a daughter who she never knew existed. On the run from the whatever, she has to fight a battle against the forces of yadda yadda yadda to preserve a future for both vampires and etc., etc.
Shakespeare this isn’t, of course, but it’s a little weird to admit that even the Twilight films establish an ecosystem of vampires, humans, and werewolves more intelligently than the Underworld movies have. Still, Awakening luckily acts as something of a corrective for Evolution’s penchant for reach-exceeding-grasp backstory-weaving; after the obligatory recap at the beginning, Selene's let loose to fight against humans and lycans and hybrids and whatever else is set against her, with the plot being about as thin as Kate Beckinsale's outfits and mostly established as an excuse to quickly move from one fight scene to the next. Even the details are silly: this is a movie where someone hotwires a car by sticking a knife into the dashboard. Oddest of all is the psychic connection between Selene and her daughter, which allows each of them to see out of each other's eyes, but only, of course, when it's convenient to the plot for that to happen.
You can forgive a lot of stupidity if a film's fun to watch, though, and Swedish co-directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein at least try to lighten up the relatively dour proceedings with a buckets-of-blood approach to the action scenes, although the emphasis on 3D effects often winds up being more of a distraction than a boon, as when a character picks up a whip in the middle of a gunfight and starts flailing around for no real reason. The direction is stylish but unoriginal, wasting no opportunity to show off Beckinsale's ass. It's a nice ass, to be fair, but the combination of her outfit (somehow even shinier and tighter than it was in the first two movies) and repetitious shots of her from behind as she squats down to place bombs or crawl through a vent, etc., leaves you walking out of the theater unsure if you just watched an action movie or a softcore ass fetish flick. Points, however, are due for stripping out most of the padding from the film; in a world where trifles like 2012 and the Transformers films can be over two and a half hours long, Awakening manages to do away with most of the needless exposition and devote what seems like almost half of its 90-minute running time to straight-out action. If you want to see vampires fight werewolves, you came to the right movie.
Still, It doesn't help that Awakening follows in the footsteps of its predecessors by being relentlessly dour. Even the Matrix films, which Underworld has always used as a crutch when it comes to stylistic matters, managed to throw a few instances of humor into the mix, but Awakening is a creakingly self-serious film. Beckinsale continues to prove her prowess at the fine art of scowling, and her daughter Eve (India Eisley) is little better. If this was a movie that cared about making you care about it, there'd be some kind of mother-daughter back-and-forth, but the single scene they share is stiff and awkward. It's probably telling that even Scott Speedman gave the script a whiff and opted out of reprising the role of Michael. He's played here by another actor, although it says something about how memorable Speedman is that I had to actually Google that later on to be sure.
Given the low standards set by Evolution and Rise Of The Lycans, it's not saying much that Awakening feels like a better film than they were, but there it is. Again, this is a movie that exists almost wholly as an excuse to watch a woman in tight leather (and a fucking corset!) fire automatic pistols at a series of CGI-enhanced enemies which then shed copious amounts of digital blood. It's more Underworld, and by now you should probably know what you're getting into when you sign up for that tour of duty.
Here's What You Missed: Underworld
Want to catch up on the Underworld series before Awakening comes out? Probably not, but here's this anyway!
Trailer 2: Underworld Awakening
The continuing mystery of these films is how precisely Kate Beckinsale continues to fit into these outfits. I guess blood is a low-calorie food.
Trailer: Underworld: Awakening
At some point, a studio name like "Screen Gems" really starts to seem like false advertising.
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