The Underworld folks really don’t mess around.
Underworld: Awakening starts with one of those “previously on Underworld” montages, which is basically a whole bunch of action scenes/killing with a voice over by Selene, and then it leaps directly into the story of the capture of the infamous death dealer and the hybrid vampire/werewolf monster that she loves.
As catch-up montages go, it was actually a really good one. Nothing will match the credit scene from Watchmen for me, but this is a solid entry into a movie trope that’s incredibly difficult to get right. No matter how unfamiliar you might be with the series (and I missed the last movie), you’ll catch right up.
Not that you’ve got a lot of plot to catch up on. There are vampires and werewolves, and they’ve been at war for centuries. Even the discovery by the human race that werewolves and vampires exist isn’t enough to end that war; it just gives the collected vampwolves something to worry about in addition to one another. After all, humans outnumber them, and when their weaknesses are ultraviolet light and silver, a simple force of tanning beds and dentists can pretty much wreak havoc among your forces. The vampires and werewolves have been driven underground, and an evil corporation seems to be doing something evil with the frozen bodies of Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and Michael (Sir Not Appearing In this Picture).
That evil thing? It seems to be genetic experiments to stop the spread of the vampire and werewolf viruses, but that’s only on the surface. One of their main experiments is a girl named Eve (India Eisley) who looks like her mother but has the unique hybrid powers of her father… that’s right, she’s the child of Selene the death dealer, and she’s on the run. Unfortunately for Antigen, Selene escapes and there’s nothing more dangerous than getting between a mother vampire and her genetic offspring.
As an action movie, Underworld: Awakening is a pretty impressive specimen. Yes, the CGI werewolves are still kind of dodgy looking – that’s a hallmark of the franchise – but the blood and gore CGI are pretty cool. Directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein know how to move the camera around, and they get a lot of mileage out of the new characters, of the skulking necessary to sneak around in the midst of human knowledge of vampires, and of all the combat. The gore is plentiful this time around, and that’s a good thing for a hard R action flick.
The acting is, well… it’s there. Kate Beckinsale just has to look good in a PVC suit while killing things, and she’s great at it. Stephen Rea menaces in his lab coat, and Theo James simply has to be idealistic and violent. (everyone in the movie has to be violent.)
India Eisley, the new hybrid for the series, looks the part of Kate Beckinsale’s daughter. She’s the one who gets most of the emotion, though Selene actually does something other than fall in love or kill this time.
The script, from a staggering four writers (Len Wiseman, John Hlavin, J. Michael Straczynski, and Allison Burnett), is a pretty straightforward one. Child goes missing, have to hunt child, people interfere, body count keeps rising… it’s simple, but it works. There’s not a lot of ponderous pontification, and the few debates that arise are kept short and sharp. I’m sure a lot of that credit goes to Straczynski, whose Babylon 5 series was a good mix of action and sci-fi.
Underworld: Awakening, despite being a pleasant surprise, also has some issues. It’s not long, but it does lag a little bit in the middle. The CGI, as mentioned above, isn’t exactly great, although some of the kills are creative and the digital gore looks fine. I didn’t see the 3D version, so I can’t comment about the quality of that footage; I can say that I doubt 3D would have added anything to the movie as I could see almost nothing that pandered to the third dimension.
Still, as action movies go, it was pretty good. The Underworld series seems to have improved with this particular outing, especially compared to the first of the four way back in 2003. It may not be the smartest movie at the multiplex, but it’s perfectly acceptable mindless entertainment.