Sunday, January 29, 2012


"Overall, Underworld: Awakening achieves what it set out to do, which is build on the story and world of the previous Underworld movies, while still creating an exciting and visually stimulating supernatural spectacle!"

Action, Horror and Fantasy

Starring – Kate Bekinsale/Selene, Steven Rea/Doctor Jacob Lane, Michael Ealy/Detective Sebastian, Theo James/David, India Eisley/Eve, Charles Dance, Kris Holden-Ried/Quint

Directors – Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein

Writers – Len Wiseman, John Hlavin, J. Michael Straczynski and Allison Burnett

Rated R – for strong violence, gore and language

1 hr., 28 min.

Thanks to a New England snowstorm last weekend, I had to wait a week before seeing Underworld: Awakening. For reasons I can’t fathom, my local theater did not have the film showing on any of its ten screens, so I was forced to trek to a slightly more distant cinema to see it. Worst of all, this theater has no stadium seating and they were only showing Underworld: Awakening in 3-D! I don’t hate 3-D, but of the four films I have now seen in 3-D, I can honestly say that the process added little to nothing to any of these films. Fortunately, despite all these seemingly opposing events, I still enjoyed Underworld: Awakening immensely – with one caveat, which I’ll get to at the end of this review.

Underworld: Awakening is a sequel to Underworld: Evolution (2006) and takes place twelve years after “The Purge”. A prologue to the movie tells us that six months after Selene gained the powers of the Vampire-Corvinus strain and she and her lover Michael Corvin killed the remaining elder vampires, the human race discovered the existence of Vampires and Lycans, which began a worldwide purge of their species. Selene and Michael are captured by a medical corporation Antigen and frozen in a cryogenic state for study.

Twelve years later, Selene escapes the medical facility, but soon after begins having visions, which lead her to a vampire David, the son of Thomas, a Vampire Elder who leads one of the few remaining vampire covens that remain hidden from humans. David helps Selene rescue a young girl from Antigen, who Selene sees in another vision. Selene and David fight a group of Lycans, who are also after the girl, but she is injured in the fight. The girl, who is another hybrid, is not healing, so David takes her and Selene back to his coven to be looked at by a vampire physician.

Thomas blames Selene for the human’s discovery and extermination of vampires, so he is anxious for her to leave his coven, but David wants Selene to train his coven to defend themselves against both the humans and the increasingly violent Lycan race. Dr. Jacob Lane, the director of Antigen, was using the hybrid girl to develop an "antidote" to make Lycans immune to the deadly effects of silver and enhance their physical abilities. The girl, dubbed by Lane “Subject 2”, needs the hybrid genetic code to achieve this, so Lane sends a super-Lycan Quint with other Lycans to the vampire coven to recapture her. A battle ensues and many of the vampires and werewolves are killed, but Quint dispatches and nearly kills David before leaving with the hybrid girl. Selene heals David with her “immortal” blood and they depart to confront Lanne, Quint and the minions of Antigen.

To start, Underworld: Awakening is even more reliant on action and violence to carry its plot than any of the other three films. I assume that the filmmakers knew that anyone going to see a forth film in a series is going to be familiar enough with the Underworld mythology to not need lengthy bits of narrative to understand the whos, whats and wheres of the story. Even after having just watched the previous three films a few months ago, I was still a bit dazed by how briskly the plot points of Underworld: Awakening are gone over. I was able to keep up with the basic reasons for why Selene was motivated to rescue “Subject 2”, but I would have liked a bit more space between the action sequences to add some depth to the motivations of Selene and the other characters in the film.

Still, the action sequences are the main draw of the Underworld films and Underworld: Awakening does not disappoint in this regard. The opening sequence of Selene’s escape from the high-rise medical center is amazing. Selene demonstrates her uber-vamp powers on numerous occasions, where she seems almost to defy the laws of gravity. The Lycans in this film are very impressive, but the super-Lycan Quint – who is easily nine feet tall – is an amazing creature to behold. If I have any complaints about the special effects at all is that at times they are moving so quickly that you have little time to admire their detailed effectiveness.

Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, who previously directed the supernatural thriller Shelter (2010), do a fine job recreating the dark-monochromatic look and feel of the previous Underworld movies. Len Wiseman, who previously directed the first two movies – Underworld and Underworld: Evolution – as well as having a hand in the story for all three Underworld films, wrote the initial screenplay for Underworld: Awakening. The three other writers, most notably J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame, stepped in for rewrites, but there is so little narrative that is carried by dialogue, that I have to wonder what, if any contributions he or the others made to the script.

Kate Beckinsale steps back into the role of Selene after six years effortlessly. Her cool, hard, but still quiet deadly passion fills the screen for most the film’s short 88 minute run time. I do miss her interaction with her Lycan lover Michael – who only makes a brief appearance at the beginning of the film – and the leading male role of the vampire David played by Theo James is little more than male eye-candy. Veteran actor Charles Dance as the Vampire Elder Thomas adds a nice bit of gravitas to the film and Stephen Rea as Dr. Jacob Lane is quietly sinister as the head of the medical corporation Antigen. If Kris Holden-Ried, who plays the super-Lycan Quint, looks familiar, it is because he plays a similar supernatural creature on the TV Series Lost Girl. Holden-Ried’s facial features and physicality certainly add weight to his role as the ferocious uber-Lycan, but I wonder if he is in danger of being typecast in a way similar to that of actor Ron Perlman.

Overall, Underworld: Awakening achieves what it set out to do, which is build on the story and world of the previous Underworld movies, while still creating an exciting and visually stimulating supernatural spectacle! The one caveat with the film that I hinted at at the outset of this review, is that the film has a tenuous conclusion that leaves me wondering if the writers had planned on a longer movie, but didn’t have the budget to film it. Underworld: Awakening is in definite need of a sequel to finish the many plot-threads that were left dangling at the end of the movie. While I’m glad that the film should be financially successful enough to warrant a sequel and I’m sure I’ll be attending it as well, it might have been nice if Underworld: Awakening could have had a stronger finish that would not necessarily required one.

Underworld: Awakening is a wild ride and a worthy addition to one of my favorite supernatural fantasy series! See it now or later, but don’t miss it.

TECHNICAL: Acting – 9 Directing – 9 Cinematography – 10 Script – 7 Special effects – 10
VISCERAL: Visual – 10 Auditory – 9 Intellectual – 7 Emotional – 9 Involvement – 10


  1. That ending was probably made that way to hook you for the upcoming trilogy they probably have planned already. I mean, this is something of a "new beginning" for the whole series right? It's a sequel, but also the whole thing has an air of "let's jumpstart this franchise for a new era" type of deal going for it.

    Stracynsky writes some great comics, I've had the pleasure of reading some of his stuff (name the Midnight Nation mini series which was amazing) so if he helped in any way or form on this one, it's a good thing in my book!

    Glad to see you enjoyed it man, looking forward to seeing it this week actually!

  2. I’m not certain that Len Wiseman, who is not only the co-creator of the Underworld films, but is married to its star Kate Beckinsale, had a new trilogy of films in mind when writing Underworld: Awakening. Beside the fact that Kate turns 40 next year and may not want to be running around in skin-tight leathers into her mid-40’s, I also think that this film still feels more like a continuation of the storylines started in Underworld and Underworld: Evolution than a “jump start” of a new trilogy of films. Admittedly, it dose take place 12 years after Evolution and features none of the characters other than Selene from that film, but the Underworld films (other than the prequel) are all told from the viewpoint of her character. Hopefully, the next film will reunite Michael and Selene, but from comments by Wiseman, I’m not so sure that’s in the cards.

    I’m assuming that Straczynski was brought in to help with the script dialogue and perhaps clean up any plot inconsistencies. I think that if the film had run a tad longer and the story was allowed to breath more, than Straczynski’s influence on the script might have shown more. I have read very little of Straczynski’s comics work, but I was an enormous fan of his SF TV series Babylon 5. He has a way with big story arcs being told on a very personal level, which lends itself to big fantasy film franchises like the Underworld films. Yes, the few things I did read of Straczynski’s comics work were Midnight Nation and also Rising Stars. I didn’t like Midnight Nation because of its metaphysical bent, but I did admire the skill involved in producing it. Rising Stars was an interesting, more realistic approach to a superhero(s) story, but it was interrupted so many times by publishing delays that I didn’t end up finishing reading it until nearly a year after the last issue was published, which made it difficult for me to keep track of all the characters and the plot.

    Avoid seeing Underworld: Awakening in 3-D if you can, because the film (like its predecessors) is so darkly lit that the 3-D effect is almost non-existent. I think I’ll actually enjoy seeing it at home on blu-ray more the second time.