It was only five minutes into Underworld: Awakening and already about ten people had walked out. Don’t worry, it wasn’t because the movie sucked. Rather, it seems that there was an unfortunate error in ticketing that misled people into believing they were about to watch Hugo instead. Oops.
The original Underworld came out way back when vampires and werewolves were cool, before the dark times, before Twilight. For my money Underworld was a decent flick, a veritable cult-classic with a rich mythology and a great visual texture to back it up. The sequel Underworld: Evolution followed in the original’s footsteps but was a lesser film – though my memory of it is admittedly a little fuzzy since I haven’t seen it in a long time. I never got around to seeing the third film Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, which is actually a prequel to the first two.
It’s fortunate then that Awakening begins with a prologue that summarises the major events of the past films in the franchise. As a result you can go into it blind and shouldn’t have any trouble understanding what’s going on. It’s unfortunate however, that the film is only 88 minutes. That the prologue cuts into this is saddening, especially when you consider how much the credits shave off of the total running time. Awakening is just way too short. It might move at a fast pace but it’s ultimately done before it even begins, and the result is a film that feels more like a footnote to the events that came before. The story is simplified and lacks a sense of history – names like ‘Corvinus’ and other references are thrown around but nothing substantially new is added to the series’ core mythology.
Humans have discovered vampires and lycans (werewolves) and, viewing them as an infection, proceed to purge them as if they were quarantining and eliminating a disease. Kate Beckinsale returns as Selene, a vampire ‘Death Dealer’ who fell in love with a vampire-lycan hybrid called Michael. Selene tries to escape the purges but is captured and awakens (aha!) some 12 years later in a very changed world (not really… it seemed about the same to me – lots of blue!). She sets out to find her lost love but instead finds a young girl (India Eisley) who ends up being central to the plot.
There’s wasted potential here. The movie begins as if humans are going to play a much larger role in the story but it quickly boils down to a conflict between the surviving vampires and lycans. A couple of actors like the commanding Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones) pop up in supporting roles but the screenplay drops them soon after. Sequel bait if you ask me. At least the action scenes are well executed – there’s no shaky cam! – and directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein keep the film aesthetically on par with its predecessors… though there’s the issue of an annoying amount of flickering lights. Avoid if you’re epileptic.
While it might not seem like it I had a fun time with Underworld: Awakening. It’s a bit brainless and the acting is only passable but it’s also energetic and stylish. Yes, it’s disappointing that it’s so short but at the end of it all it remains a solid ‘stormy night’ movie. The strongest thing I can say for it is that I came out of it wanting to watch the other films in the series (particularly Rise of the Lycans), which is always a good sign.
I saw the movie in 3D and it avoids being too gimmicky (it was filmed in 3D). I like that the prologue was kept in 2D – it gave the transition to 3D more impact. Indeed, aspects of the 3D usage reminded me of Tron: Legacy.