Underworld Awakening Review
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Running Time: 88 minutes
Well, here's another excuse to put Kate Beckinsale in tight leather with Underworld: Awakening, which continues the story of the Vampires and Lycans started in 2003 by director Len Wiseman (who remains on this film in a writing capacity). The original Underworld film brought to the screen the battle between the two supernatural forces and asked audiences to choose which side they favoured. This was long before the Twilight saga had tried the same thing, using the two male protagonists as poster children. It could be said that Underworld actually stared a sea change in the Vampire/Werewolf sub-genre of horror films and allowed through some projects that might not have seen the light of day (excuse the inappropriate turn of phrase there). It certainly help to cement some of the visual style for this genre and spawned a series of films staring the aforementioned Beckinsale which have largely been well received by loyal fans of the series.
With Awakening we see the series return to the original plot of Death Dealer Selene and her hybrid lover Michael Corvin (played briefly by a stand in for Scott Speedman). Time has moved on since we last left the pair and humans have discovered that they are not alone, treating vampires and werewolves as diseases that need to be stamped out. It is in to this world that we are thrust and see Michael get shot and Selene get captured. The plot then moves swiftly forward 12 years as Selene is released from her entombment in a block of ice by a new hybrid, and goes on the run. We are soon made aware that this new hybrid is, however, a 12 year old girl who Selene tracks down in order to help but Lycans are not far behind. Who will control the hybrid and just who is she anyway?
Directorially, we are not seeing anything different in this film that we didn't get in the others. The team of Marlind & Stein do a good job in bring the fervent fight scenes to screen and have kept the overall visual style that fans have come to associate with the franchise. In between fights the films pacing is quite good and bridges the action sequences nicely. That said, there is nothing new to see here and once the fighting is done we return to fairly standard one shot, two shot sequences that can be found in the most tawdry of films. There is nothing wrong with this, however. Ultimately it is fairly solid film making.
Where the real problems with the film lie is in a plot which, even though engaging, is very thinly veiled. In fact, there is little beyond the basic story to captivate the imagination and it's difficult to know whether this was just lazy plotting or whether it was done to satiate focus groups. As well as that, characters have been introduced really to replace those killed in earlier films. The interesting elements of the plot, namely the human reaction to the werewolf/vampire threat and how the two sub-species survive, is largely glossed over, even though it would make a much more interesting threat than that which transpires. And then there are the Lychans themselves.
One of the more interesting elements of the previous Underworld films was that of a subjugated Werewolf species taking on the vampires who had once enslaved them. The earlier films really did start to show that the battle wasn't a one sided thing and semi-political plot points were able to thrive within their scripts, even if they were hidden well. This should have been taken to a new level with the human threat but we are instead treated to a film where the once misunderstood Werewolf clan have turned in to nothing more than big dogs. They have become the 'Monster of the Week' in a US TV series and that is so much less than they deserve.
It was these elements that really stopped me enjoying a film that I should have liked (after all, I am meant to be the target audience, right?). It is a shame when you consider the cast, which includes many fine British actors, has done a very good job dispite the problems. Theo James, for example, takes a shockingly written part and really does make it his own, bringing as much believability as one could expect to the screen. The young India Eisley is also worth mentioning as the escaped hybrid, since much of the plot pivots on her performance which is both understated and visceral when needed. Charles Dance also makes an appearance as the head of a vampire coven and is as accomplished as one would expect. And then there is Kate herself who does hold the film together, even through some of the less accomplished pieces of writing.
Finally, I should really touch on the special effects, some of which must have given this film an 18 certificate as I see no other reason why it should have been rated so. They're all right. Some of the wolf work, especially later in the film, seems to be a little lacking. Nine years on from the original movie it appears that the technology used in this franchise has not advanced very much. I'm not sure what more can be said.
If you are a fan of the Underworld series then it is probably worth seeing this film. Dispite it's problems there is a lot of action in it and will keep you busy for eighty minutes on a long afternoon. If you're not a fan then I would steer well away from this, unless you like your gory horror action with a little less gore and a lot more action. As with all films in the genre there are Technical issues, such as how many bullets were fired and do you feel lucky punk... But those can be overlooked if you just want a little bit of action with your supernatural monsters. If you are a fan of the original but found the rest of the franchise less than engaging, may I suggest renting out Dog Soldiers, American Werewolf in London and The Howling for a much more entertaining time.
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