Friday, August 17, 2012

Underworld Awakening

Directed by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein.

2012. Rated R, 88 minutes.
Stephen Rea
India Eisley
Theo James
Kris Holden-Ried
Charles Dance

The awakening takes place right at the beginning. Well, that’s not quite true. We start this adventure like we normally do, with our host vampire, Selene (Beckinsale), giving us a quick history lesson. I’ll be as succinct as possible for those of you who already know the scoop. The vampires have been at war with the lycans (werewolves) for over 600 years. Most of that time, Selene has been a frontline soldier on a unit called The Death Dealers. Recently, as in during the franchise’s first movie, she fell in love with Michael who becomes a hybrid of the two species. Both sides now hunt the couple.

For this installment, there is an added dimension. Humans have discovered the existence of vampires and werewolves and go about exterminating both. Michael and Selene are captured and cryogenically frozen due to his unique condition. She “awakens” twelve years later when another ‘subject’ helps her escape. Of course, she sets out to find her beloved Michael.

Aside from what’s mentioned above, nothing else really happens. Okay, there is one development early involving the subject that freed Selene and one twist late that’s not really surprising. Most of what’s in between is gory but shoddily staged action sequences showing our heroes (Selene, a young girl and a male vampire) fighting cgi lycans. If that’s going to be the bulk of your movie, a better effort should be made to make it somewhat believable. The lycans look better than in Awakening’s woeful predecessor, Rise of the Lycans, but still have no weight to them. A six and a half or seven foot muscled and hairy beast should at least disturb vehicles a little bit when it leaps from one to another. Since this happens early on, it’s hard to shake the feeling we’re looking at anything but a collection of pixels.

This is all the more frustrating because I am actually a big fan of the first movie in the series. I like the way the story develops. I like how the two iconic movie monsters are viewed through the prism of The Matrix. Finally, I like that it introduces us to Selene, one of the most intriguing female vampires in cinematic history. I enjoyed the second movie (Evolution), though quite a bit less. Awakening marks the second straight Underworld movie I think is absolutely horrible. Rise of the Lycans is just another in a long line of poorly executed prequels and didn’t involve the franchise’s main protagonist. This brings her back and gives us some interesting developments early on but does nothing with them. Instead, it’s content to show us a steady stream of scene showing Selene killing lycans. In the nooks and crannies of downtime she does little more than whine about Michael. It’s as if the filmmakers believed that a good idea is good enough on its own and needs no fleshing out.

Admittedly, my expectations were low for a fourth movie in a franchise that seems to peter out about midway through the second installment. Still, it’s a disappointing entry because the potential for an exhilarating tale is there. The first five minutes or so is spectacular movie-making, revealing an intriguing premise with numerous possibilities. In lieu of journeying down any of the possible avenues opened, Awakening simply tries to hide its lazy writing with a succession of not-always-so-nicely-rendered battle scenes. That, my friends, should be punishable by two shots to the chest and one to the head with ultra-violet or silver nitrate rounds, depending on which side of the monster ledger you think we’re dealing with.

MY SCORE: 4/10

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