Reviewed by GREG KING
Directors: Mans Malind and Bjorn Stein
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy, Charles Dance, Theo James, India Eisley, Sandrine Holt, Kris Holden-Reid, Wes Bentley.
Having largely sat out the origins story that was Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans, Kate Beckinsale returns as the feisty vampire assassin Selene, and she again provides the series with its strong central focus. Clad in body hugging black leather, Beckinsale is a formidable kick-ass heroine in the same vein as Resident Evil’s Milla Jovovich, competent with heavy weaponry, martial arts, and even a bit of close quarters combat with lethal edged weapons.
It’s been six years since Underworld: Evolution, and so Awakening opens with a prologue that gives audiences a quick history about the centuries old war between the vampires and the lycans (werewolves), which has been largely fought outside the knowledge of humans. But when the war emerged into the human world, the humans fought back, exterminating both species in what became known as “The Purge.” “Humans no longer kill each other, they kill us,” says Selene. And at least here the war between these two species is a lot more bloody than the tense standoff between the two species in the bland Twilight series.
Antigen is a multi-national corporation that has been working on a way to eradicate both vampires and werewolves from society. Selene (Beckinsale) was captured and cryogenically frozen inside a research laboratory run by Antigen’s mysterious head, Dr Lane (Stephen Rea). Twelve years later, Selene is released from her cocoon, and finds herself in a brave new world. Selene resumes the fight against a superior new hybrid of lycans. She meets twelve-year old vampire/lycan hybrid Eve (India Eilsey), who has been raised inside the Antigen lab.
Not surprisingly, Eve turns out to be her daughter, and she has to protect her from Lane and his minions. Her real nemesis this time around is the uber-lycan, genetically bred in a laboratory to be bigger, stronger, faster, and a whole lot scarier. They are tasked with tracking down Selene and Eve, who eventually find brief refuge with a pack of vampires. While it was believed that the lycans were exterminated, pockets of vampires remain hidden.
Vampire leader Bill Nighy left the series in Evolution - after all his head was sliced in two – and now Charles Dance steps up to the plate as Thomas, the leader of a new family of vampires. Dance’s silky tones exude menace and he makes his few minutes of screen time count. Although Thomas wants little to do with the fight, his son David (Theo James, recently seen in The Inbetweeners Movie) is keen to help Selene.
This fourth film in the Underworld series remains faithful to the formula that has driven this franchise. The film has been stylishly directed by the Swedish pair of Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein, who handle the material with brutal efficiency, and they retain the dark gloomy visual style established by original director Len Wiseman. Underworld Awakening is fairly brutal and gory stuff, with lots of the same slow motion ballet-like action and shootouts.
The story has been written by a quartet of writers, including franchise creator and original director Len Wiseman, with contributions from television writer John Hlavin (Donkey Punch, etc), J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, etc), and Allison Burnett (Feast Of Love, the recent remake of Fame, etc). Which essentially means that the film appears a little messy and jumbled, and the tone is uneven, not that this will matter much to fans of the series. However, with a relatively brisk running time of 90 minutes, the film doesn’t waste too much time getting down to the action, and the directors maintain a fast and furious pace throughout. Jeff McEvoy (Turistas, The Lincoln Lawyer, etc) has edited the film in suitably kinetic fashion.
This is the first film in the series to be released in a 3D version, as is the norm with big budget action films today, although the process really adds little to the overall experience. Also the CGI effects, especially those that create the new lycans, at time seem a little underwhelming. The sound effects are incredibly loud and cranked up to the max so that every punch, every bit of gunfire and every screech of car tyres resounds at almost deafening levels.
Although Selene’s werewolf lover Michael (Scott Speedman), didn’t return for this Underworld sequel his absence is still keenly felt, and there are hints he may return if there is yet another sequel. But basically, like most long running series, the whole Underworld saga is showing signs of losing freshness, and is in danger of outstaying its welcome.