On Underworld: Awakening

Continuing from Underworld and Underworld: Evolution is Underworld: Awakening, which sees the (modern day) rise of the Lycans, running the corporation Antigen. The film features J. Michael Straczynski as screenwriter (Babylon 5, Thor, Murder, She Wrote), and actor Charles Dance (Bleak House). There are a couple things of contention I have with the film, starting with this scene:

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This scene is intended to sexualize Selene, which really seemed rather unnecessary. I have felt this distracts from the overall story, because do we need to really see her naked?

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Additionally, I did not the creation of Eve, as like the image above, puts focus on Selene’s gender (even though she is an undead vampire), as opposed to her individual skills, role, and knowledge in the Underworld universe. Yet another unnecessary distraction, and pretty cheap move.

At least the film features Theo James.

According to the ScreenRant review:

True to its title, Underworld Awakening (aka Underworld 4) finds Selene (Kate Beckinsale) waking up 12 years after humanity’s discovery and “purging” of the vampire and Lycan (werewolf) hordes living in their midst. Selene finds herself in a world where vamps and wolves are near extinction, and humans keep tight control of things, methodically searching for and destroying the last of “the infected.”

However, before Selene can even get her bearings she is swept up in a rescue mission involving a young girl named Eve (India Eisley), who is more powerful than anyone imagined. It’s up to Selene to protect Eve from those who would harm her – be they human, Lycan, or the vampire coven itself.

Underworld 4 looks and feels like an extended TV episode, rather than a big-budget feature film. This is mainly due to the amateurish direction of Swedish duo Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, whose primary experience is in directing TV, as it so happens. The film is nothing more than a string of action sequences and cheap set-pieces, often shot at wide angles that reveal the elementary (and by now, routine) fight choreography. Cheap CGI effects make the blood spatter, superhuman feats and supernatural creatures look no better than something you might see on an episode of Supernatural or True Blood.

The directors’ lack of skill is even more pronounced thanks to the 3D format of the film: at such wide angles, a lot of Underworld Awakening looks like a Gothic pop-out puppet show set on a drab stage. At their moderate skill level, Mårlind and Stein really had no business working with 3D cameras: why add bells and whistles when you haven’t even grasped the action movie basics?

The script for the first Underworld succeeded in creating a rich (if not slightly convoluted) mythology, as well as some interesting and complex characters. The sequel made the mythos a little tooconvoluted, but this fourth film suffers from the opposite problem: it’s half-cooked and feels more like the pilot episode of an UnderworldTV series than the fourth chapter in a movie franchise. A variety of writers worked on the script – including Underworld director Len Wiseman and Thor writer J. Michael Straczynski – but it’s hard to see where that combined effort was spent.

The movie begins with a cheaply-staged and very rushed glimpse at the vampire/Lycan “purge” (which could’ve been a movie in itself) before we jump to Selene waking up, finding Eve, and… that’s about it. The film runs out of steam somewhere in the second act, and settles for a cheaply-staged and predictable third act battle that might impress a TV audience, but is painfully unworthy as a 3D theatrical spectacle.

The film also attempts to throw a “twist” into the third act, but not only is it obvious (as are all of the so-called “twists” in this film),  it largely negates the premise that distinguishes Awakening from its predecessors (vampires and Lycans having a common enemy in humanity). There is almost no development of character or narrative (just a lot of fight sequences), no thematic arcs, and a lot of the plot contrivances are so pronounced and silly that it’s hard to take the movie seriously, even as an Underworld film. While some would say that the door is purposefully left wide open for another sequel, it feels more like this half-cooked story never bothers to explore or make good on the many plot threads it introduces.

Kate Beckinsale is still in her prime as a gorgeous action starlet, and there was a lot of room for her character to experience some real development across the course of the story. Unfortunately, Selene reacts to her new circumstances with such unflinching stoicism that it’s hard to become invested in anything that’s happening. In one scene, Eve actually confronts Selene about how “cold” she is, offering Beckinsale an opportunity to display some true emotion – which she does with such monotone, deadpan delivery that it is hilariously ironic (and not in a good way).

The supporting cast consists of actors hissing through fangs (Theo James as David, Selene’s only vampire ally) or growling through fur and black eyes (Kris Holden-Reid as a ‘super Lycan’), while Eve runs around doing both. It’s all pretty ridiculous, and none of the characters are as rich or interesting as those that have been featured in previous installments.

Michael Ealy plays detective Sebastian, a human cop who actually has a bit of depth to him; unfortunately, his role is pretty much relegated to holding a weary stare as he watches the supernatural madness taking place around him. Similarly, Game of Thrones star Charles Dance brings some acting chops to his bit role as “Thomas,” lord of one of the last vampire covens. However, like Ealy, Dance is given little to do with his talents.

If you’re a fan of the first Underworld film, but thought the sequel (Evolution) and the prequel (Rise of the Lycans) were diminished efforts, you won’t find redemption in this fourth installment. However, if you’ve enjoyed all of the films for what they are, you’ll probably get a bit of enjoyment out of this one as well. If you’ve never been a fan of watching vampires and werewolves battling it out, but were perhaps curious about this particular film: don’t waste the time or money, because your curiosity will only be rewarded with disappointment.

As this film proves: sometimes it’s better to quit while you’re ahead.

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5 thoughts on “On Underworld: Awakening

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