Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review of Underworld: Awakening

Title: Underworld: Awakening

Date: 2012

Tagline: Vengeance Returns

I went into Underworld: Awakening with low expectations.  After all, this is the fourth movie in the franchise (and the third in the Selene saga), and rarely does a series make it this far without a significant loss in quality.  (Does anybody remember Halloween III: Season of the Witch or Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter?)  However, I walked away pleasantly surprised.  

Underworld: Awakening begins a few days after the final battle of Underworld: Evolution in which Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman) defeated the Elders.  That conflict brought the existence of vampires and lycans to the attention of humans, who immediately initiate The Purge, a “mass cleansing” of the underworld.  (My favorite line from the movie was when Selene says: “The humans no longer fight amongst themselves.  They’ve been waiting for an enemy like us.”)  Selene and Michael are caught up in the cleansing, and Selene is rendered unconscious in an explosion.  She wakes up twelve years later inside a cryogenic chamber located within the laboratory of the biomedical firm Antigen, an enterprise run by Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea) who is using Selene and another test subject as source code for a vaccine he is developing to counter the affects of vampirism and lycanthropy.  Her escape was orchestrated by another test subject who had broken free earlier.  Assuming that the other test subject is Michael, Selene sets off after him.  

[Spoiler alert]  What Selene finds is a world that has changed substantially from the life she once knew.  Lycans live like vermin in the sewers and teeter on the brink of extinction.  The few surviving vampires have abandoned their mansions for underground lairs beneath the city, scared of any contact with humans and stripped of their former self esteem.  The biggest surprise is when Selene finally catches up with the other test subject.  It is not her lover but a young girl named Eve (India Eisley), Selene’s and Michael’s lycan-vampire hybrid daughter who has the same abilities as her father combined with the hormonal rage of a teenager.  As Selene struggles to adapt to this new world and bond with the child who has grown up without her, she must also protect Eve from Dr. Lane who wants to recover his test subjects, his interest in them harboring a deep and terrifying secret.  [End spoiler alert]

Directors Marlind and Stein succeeded in keeping the franchise fresh by taking Underworld: Awakening in a new direction.  By having Selene deal with the consequences of her actions, the directors built on the foundation of the first two movies rather than continue the story linearly, which would have failed to deliver.  In addition, introducing the dynamic of motherhood allowed them to develop Selene's character beyond that of a warrioress.  Marlind and Stein also provide new and impressive protagonists in the form of a massive uber-werewolf that is more than a match for the vampires and in Dr. Lane, the most complex and evil villain in the franchise to date.  

There are some major flaws with the movie, the two biggest for me being the passing off of an eighteen year old actress (Indian Eisley) as a twelve year old girl, and the inclusion of Michael in the storyline even though Scott Speedman does not appear in the movie (there are a few brief shots in the opening scenes that are either Speedman transposed from Underworld: Evolution or filmed with a body double).  Nor does the storyline explain how Selene could give birth, and how Eve grew into a teenager, if both were in cryogenics for the past twelve years.  However, given the overall positives in the movie, these don’t detract too much from the final product (and may someday be the basis for an Underworld: Awakening drinking game).  

Underworld: Awakening was a good way to start off 2012, and makes me look forward to the sequel (as long as Kate Beckinsale and her leather outfit are in it).  I give this movie three and a half out of five vampire fangs.

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