New ‘Underworld’ as dead as its sleek heroine
Taking a page from the “Resident Evil” franchise, the newest addition to the “Underworld” movies, “Awakening,” lays waste to both everything onscreen and to the small semblance of a plot the previous movies fought to establish.
Already in the realm of non-reality thanks to its Gothic take on vampires and werewolves, “Awakening” further seeps into a dark abyss in large part because of in-your-face 3-D, over-the-top and unrealistic action sequences and a convoluted and emotionally deprived plot: so, in other words, a typical “Underworld” movie.
Taking place shorty after 2006’s “Underworld: Evolution” and continuing the story set in motion by 2003’s “Underworld” (we’re skipping right over the monstrosity that was 2009’s “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans”), “Awakening” shows us a world steeped in hatred and darkness. However, instead of humans fighting each other or vampires fighting lycans (read: werewolves), this is a world where humans take the fight to both vamps and lycans. You see, humans haven’t taken kindly to the discovery of the non-humans among them. In an effort to prevent further “infection,” humans have declared martial law, which soon devolves into a mass cleansing.
We’re quickly introduced to the franchise’s heroine, the centuries-old vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale), and the love of her life, the vampire-lycan hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman), as they seek to escape the evermore hostile city. However, fate intervenes, and the next thing Selene knows, she’s waking up from a 12-year cryogenic freeze at Antigen Laboratories, naked and angry as all hell. She quickly escapes, only to realize she wasn’t the only one to do so. Subject No. 2 also freed herself from her confines and then freed Selene, and somehow the two share a psychic link. (Selene was dubbed Subject No. 1.)
To make matters more convenient, Selene, though just having awoken from a decades-long slumber, retains all of her legendary Death Dealer skills, wreaking merciless havoc on human and lycan alike. (After extracting information from an Antigen worker, she causally throws him from a high-rise apartment window. It does not end well for the worker.)
After learning that Subject No. 2 is her daughter (India Eisley) and that Michael is dead, Selene bands together with David (Theo James), a vampire who goes against his coven’s and father’s (Charles Dance) wishes to aid Selene, and Detective Sebastian (Michael Ealy), a human sympathetic to Selene’s fight. The group seeks to prevent any harm from befalling Subject No. 2, a hybrid being sought out for her genetic material by Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea).
Having a new pair of directors — Swedish filmmakers Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein — “Awakening” starts out in spectacularly gory fashion, leaving you with high hopes for the movie’s remainder. Sadly, they choose to more closely follow the franchise’s previous director, Len Wiseman (who, along with John Hlavin, J. Michael Straczynski and Allison Burnett, wrote the screenplay for “Awakening”). The stunningly oppressive metropolis, with its untold secrets and ever-present wars, is in reality only skin deep. There’s no character or plot depth to be found. The supporting characters, while adequate, are forgettable.
Lacking in particular is the curious relationship between Selene and her daughter. There’s something to be said for being true to one’s self, but Selene’s apparent lack of interest in the girl who shares Michael’s eyes is … awkward. Selene, known for her cold sense of calculation and self-preservation, maintains her steely composure for the most part, though on occasion showing some maternal instinct. It offers a strange conundrum: Would we like Selene more if she showed more affection, or would that estrange us from the icy murderess we know and love?
Even then, “Awakening’s” finale does little to revive us from the lackluster 90 minutes it took to get there. Setting up for a hopeful sequel, it delivers enough to make us want to watch the next installment, even if we barely got through this one. But hey, maybe this one will involve a giant vampire.
Two undead stars out of five.