Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Theo James, Michael Ealy, India Eisley
Directed by: Mans Marlind, Bjorn Stein
I guess it’s the sign of a successful horror franchise when you are going into fourth and fifth sequels. Once a genre film becomes a hit why is it so necessary to produce mass sequels/prequels etc. A good, original, studio-backed horror concept is far in between so it saddens me to see those type of films become gutted and sucked dry for mass profit then quality cinema.
Underworld was an original entry into the horror/action genre that before Twilight took an original concept and added a Romeo and Juliet twist to a story about Vampires and Werewolves. Of course, after the initial success came so do the sequels. Where as the first film was light on action and tried to shoehorn multiple stories and vampire/werewolf backstory, the second was all-out action, the third went the prequel route and was a lot of medieval backstory. Now we arrive years later at the fourth sequel and where do we stand?
Underworld: Awakening is a cash-in pure and simple. The series would have been fine at three movies. I enjoyed all three at a mindless level but I really didn’t toss and turn at night wondering what happened to Selene and Michael. However I’m not gonna complain at an opportunity to see Kate Beckinsale in a tight leather jumpsuit. The movie picks up after the second movie where the humans discover the existence of vampires and werewolves and commence a “purge” of eradicating all of them. Years later the humans have successfully almost eliminated nearly all of vampires and werewolves and Selene wakes up from cryogenic freezing to find twelve years have gone back, Michael is missing, and a little girl has escaped the same lab as her. Dun, dun, dunnnnn.
The movie moves at a crisp hour and a half, and wastes no time with backstory, side characters, or subplots. It’s the Selene show pure and simple. Kate Beckinsale has now become the equivalent of Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil films. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but how much more acting range can you show when you are known for firing two handguns in tight leather. Beckinsale is completely serviceable in the role and is the anchor for the franchise. Scott Speedman who is known for playing Michael is for whatever reason MIA and replaced with a horrible stand-in and his existence is made awkward the entire film and ends up leaving the film open for another unnecessary cash-in. You can’t complain that the film is boring because it is mainly action set-pieces that are all well-done including a car chase involving werewolves chasing a speeding car and a nice ending fight sequence in a parking garage. In IMAX and 3D the movie is fine but doesn’t really benefit from having either or. Some shots are nicely choreographed to include 3D shots but I wasn’t wowed enough to recommend the 3D and think the film will hold up perfectly well in 2D. The story is done by newcomers Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein and drench the film in traditional blue tint and bring a pretty stylized film that feels pretty identical to the previous installments.
Kate Beckinsale is the only actress to return to the franchise. Scott Speedman as I mentioned is MIA and great character actors like Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, and Tony Curran are all dead so new blood (no pun intended) is brought in. The great character actor Stephen Rea is brought in as the main villain Dr. Jacob Lane and does an admirable job but he’s no Bill Nighy. Other new characters include Michael Ealy in a throwaway role as Detective Sebastian, and Theo James as David who actually is a very good sidekick to Selene’s character and personally made me prefer a potential love-story between them. India Eisley is a newcomer as Eve and does a great job as a child actor in a horror film and actually somewhat resembles Kate Beckinsale‘s character. It is a nice touch to add a human element to the franchise that previously never featured humans or police officers. Although I felt like more could have been done with the government purging of vampires/werewolves and their conflict, instead of focusing on Selene’s mission which never really leads anywhere or adds nothing new to the franchise overall besides adding new characters. Ultimately this film feels like a good half of a story including the vampire purge, the super-giant werewolves, Selene’s kid, and some decent action sequences, but more fills like filler to the story than actual progression. A bigger budget, closure to the Selene/Michael storyline, and more with the human/vampire conflict, this film could have been the kickstart to the more or less lifeless franchise. As it is, it’s just a first half to an unfinished storyline, but I guess as long as Beckinsale is still willing to kick ass in leather, my ass will be in a theater seat. If they don’t continue the franchise, there’s always a new Resident Evil film coming out this year.