Wednesday, May 9, 2012

DVD Review: Underworld Awakening

Underworld Awakening ** ½
Directed by: Måns Mårlind & Björn Stein.
Written by: Len Wiseman & John Hlavin and J. Michael Straczynski and Allison Burnett.
Starring: Kate Beckinsale (Selene), Stephen Rea (Dr. Jacob Lane), Michael Ealy (Detective Sebastian), Theo James (David), India Eisley (Eve), Sandrine Holt (Lida), Charles Dance (Thomas), Kris Holden-Ried (Quint), Wes Bentley (Antigen Scientist).

I have to admit, I had to look up how many previous Underworld films there have been so far – and was surprised that there was only three (I could have sworn that Beckinsale made three before the awful prequel movie a few years ago). The selling feature of the series has not changed – Kate Beckinsale in a skintight leather suit, as a gun wielding vampire fighting werewolves. And if, unlike me, you are a fan of this series, I see no reason why you won’t like this movie – I enjoyed it more than I remember enjoying any of the other movies in the series. But the film is unlikely to win over any converts.

The film opens with the world learning about the existence of vampires and lycans – and not liking it one bit. Humanity goes on a cleansing campaign to rid themselves of these two menaces. Selene (Beckinsale) and her vampire-lycan hybrid lover Michael (Scott Speedman) are not killed – but captured. Selene awakes from being frozen in a high tech lab and escapes, and is shocked to learn she has been under for 12 years. Even more shocking is who helped her escaped – a daughter Eve (India Eisley), born in captivity. Of course the head researcher Dr. Lane (Stephen Rea) wants his prized subjects back – and will do anything he needs to do to achieve it.

There are things to admire about Underworld Awakening – perhaps the biggest one being the lack of exposition in this chapter. The previous films seemed to love delving into its own, overly complicated mythology, when really all anyone wanted to see was vampires fighting werewolves. The filmmakers seemed to have finally learned that lesson – and serve up exactly that. The story is set up quickly, and rapidly the movie becomes one action scene after another. Most of them serve up the same sort of action we have seen in this series before, but there are few nice touches (I loved the scenes involving the elevator). And yet, even though I appreciated the less pretentious handling of the material this time, the film goes perhaps too far the other way. With almost nothing but action going on in the film, it eventually reaches a point of overload – and because all the characters except for Selene (once again played well by Beckinsale) are blank, cookie cutter characters, you never really care what happens. Even in a film like The Raid Redemption, which is even more wall to wall action, you eventually stop caring about what is going on – and as good as the action scenes are in Underworld Awakening, they pale next to The Raid Redemptions.

If you like this sort of thing, you probably already saw and enjoyed the movie. And if you don’t, then the chances are you weren’t going to watch it anyway. I liked much of Underworld Awakening – not enough for me to say it’s a good movie, but enough so that if there is in a fifth Underworld movie, I will most likely see it.

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