‘Underworld: Awakening’, the fourth installment of the franchise, was not screened to the press, which led me to believe this film was garbage. But to my surprise, it was completely the opposite – pure brain slashing right from the beginning, tons of action, the special effects were on point, but the 3D was a major disappointment. It looked like 2D. A waste of money if you asked me. Also, there are no hidden scenes at the end of the credits, so don’t’ wait for it, but they do set up the ending for another sequel. I saw this in IMAX and it’s money well spent. It really enhances the experience. In my opinion, this is the best movie of the week, much better than ‘Haywire’ and ‘Red Tails’.
Set 15 years after the conclusion of ‘Underworld Evolution’, after Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and her human-Lycan hybrid lover Michael (Scott Speedman) vanquished the Vampire Elder Marcus. It really ignores part three ‘Rise of the Lycans’. In the intervening years, mankind has discovered the existence of both the Vampire and Lycan clans, and launched an all-out war to eradicate both species. Selene, captured during the genocide, awakens after more than a decade to find herself captive in a sealed laboratory at Antigen, a powerful biotech corporation dedicated to developing a vaccine against the viruses that have created the Vampires and Lycans. Selene is heartbroken to discover that Michael is dead, but her grief is soon overshadowed by the shock of her discovery that, while in a cryogenically frozen state, she has given birth to his daughter, Eve (India Eisley). As she seeks asylum for herself and her child, Selene finds herself in a world in which her once proud people have been hunted nearly to extinction and the few survivors hide underground. Shunned by the remaining clans, Selene enlists the support of a young Vampire, David (Theo James), who joins her in a bloody vendetta against Antigen, where shadowy forces conspire to destroy both her and her child. With their traditional enemies, the Lycans, once again in ascendance, even Selene seems powerless in the face of the most ferocious opponent in Underworld history—a genetically enhanced uber-Lycan, like the beast from Ed Norton’s ‘Hulk’. You remember him… Hulk fights this genetically created monster for 20 ferocious minutes in the denouement, where one finishes as exhausted as the Hulk himself.
The script stands alone on itself and depends minimally on the plot of the prior 3 to be entertaining. Its success relies in its combination of tension filled scenes weaved in with attractive visuals and very good performance on the part of Beckinsale.
With other commitments pending, including helming the upcoming remake of ‘Total Recall’, franchise creator Len Wiseman chose not to direct the film, but was on hand as a producer and provided the inspiration for the storyline. Swedish directors, Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein co-directed and were chosen based on a small film they did called ‘Storm’, which seemed to have been heavily influenced by Underworld. The tandem kept the mythology of the first films, but developed new characters and injected a more tense and agitated storyline that resulted in scenes barely being wasted.
Kate Beckinsale, star of the first two films, returns in her lead role as the vampire warrioress Selene, and she doesn’t skip a beat. It felt like I was watching her all over again in the original. The woman never ages. Her return was crucial to the success of the film, due mostly to her strong acting skills. She infuses the movie with a gravitas which doesn’t allow it to turn comical in anyway. Beckinsale displays a variety of emotions from compassion to ruthlessness, love to fearlessness. She’s an underrated actress that deserves more roles to showcase her talents.
Another highlight of the film is it’s visual look, it’s almost impeccable. It’s filled with a plethora of stylized special effects in the form of raging murderous wolves, flying daggers, spattering blood and high speed car crashes. In contrast, the 3D experience is underwhelming. Yes, it barely uses any gimmicks, but then there’s no flash to it either, nothing really pops out. What’s inexplicable is that it was shot in stereoscopic 3D with the new RED Epic cameras which have an extraordinary 5K resolution roughly five times greater than that of HD. And at times, I still couldn’t differentiate 3D from 2D when I took the glasses off. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t have a 2D version to switch off to, so you’re stuck with paying the extra money.
Nevertheless, like a friend said, “Underworld is ‘Twilight’ for adults”. He’s right, it’s a guilty pleasure filled with wolves, vampires, a hint of romance and a flood of non-stop action. This is well done and I have to nitpick to really find deficiencies within the film such as the dialogue. Overall, if you’re looking for the best bang for your buck from the new releases, ‘Underworld: Awakening’ is my personal selection this week.