For its fourth entry, the Underworld series reconnects with the worst aspects of itself that -- against all odds -- have somehow carried the franchise this far. After refreshingly jettisoning the vampires-with-guns angle with a third film set in medieval times, Underworld: Awakening acts as a direct sequel to part two (Evolution) and once again features star Kate Beckinsale jumping straight down from high places while wearing shiny Lycra and a trench coat. When she’s not running up walls and doing lots of spins in midair to avoid flamethrowers, her character searches for her lost love Michael, a vampire/lycan hybrid (lycans are hyena-like werewolves). She and Michael were both kidnapped by the government and put into deep freeze, only to be freed 15 years later in a retro future where all the lights flicker and everything is blue.
The Underworld franchise has mostly been underwhelming, but it was at its best when it focused on the interesting mythology of its monsters and let otherwise much more talented actors ham it up in B-movie serious-land. Imagine the shock to find out that this entry does neither of those things. Sure, Stephen Rea shows up in the cast, but he’s slapped with an American accent and has little to work with. The closest the production gets to English acting royalty is Charles Dance, the villain from The Golden Child, which would have been a fine choice if not for the fact that he’s also been given nothing to do. Basically, the plot involves a retro future (all the computers and cars are circa 1989 for no good reason) where humans have almost wiped out the feuding monsters, who still fight using teeth and artillery. After Beckinsale’s character wakes up, she soon discovers a young female hybrid, whom you’d think they’d set up to be her daughter, although this is one picture that would rather leave things as vague as possible.
Lots of things just happen in Underworld: Awakening. Somehow the lycans can now be as big as a Hummer…why? The characters aren’t sure -- they just think the monsters are getting “stronger.” As foolish as it is to slap the wrist of a sci-fi action pic for not connecting the dots of its plot, this one certainly doesn’t even seem to try. Obviously the film is a setup for yet more sequels in which the same kind of ho-hum stuff happens. Directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein continue to channel their inner bootleg Matrix (they directed the 2005 film Storm, which also featured Wachowski-like sequences) and deliver incredibly uninspired action scenes with varying degrees of cheap-looking special effects. Much like the more entertaining Resident Evil series, nothing seems to stop this franchise, which to its credit, must have a gaggle of supporters continuing to cheer it on. To them, all that can be said is that there are much better entertainment choices out there than this…they just don’t feature close-ups of Kate Beckinsale’s butt every ten minutes. leave a comment --Jeremy Wheeler