REVIEW: Underworld – Awakening

Disappointed. That is about as succinctly as I can put my reaction to Underworld: Awakening. My expectations were probably too high, as I loved the first three installments of this franchise. Len Wiseman and Kate Beckinsale were back on board, and that boded well, but the outcome was tepid.

Part of it was plot. The original Underworld set up a rich history in the war between vampires and lycans, and it was said history that propelled all three films forward, and tied them together. The latest hardly adds any layers to the preexisting universe aside from Selene and Michael having a daughter together, who like her father, is a hybrid between the two monster species. No connections to Corvinus, Viktor, Marcus, Kraven, Lucian or any of the other characters so tightly woven into the Underworld fabric. It’s Selene and a bunch of new blood, and it all falls flat.

There is probably some merit to the notion that this film was created with Underworld novices in mind. The series has a good following, but you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself and cut off the vast population who might see this but aren’t familiar with the first trio of movies. And despite my disappointment with Awakening, the first ten minutes does an excellent job of catching the viewer up to speed with the main beats of the story to date. But that’s about the extent of my praise.

Well, there’s a lot of gore, and some of it is downright nasty, so if you’re into that sort of thing, THAT is the extent of my praise. For real this time.

Selene’s daughter, Eve, looks more like the girl from The Exorcist or The Ring than either a vampire or lycan, and that’s just a bit off-putting. The new vampires introduced don’t have a tenth of the depth given to their counterparts from the original, nor the austere and dominant presence. For the first time, there are no lycans returning from previous films, so its hard to care about any of the villains, but the super lycan is kinda cool. Overall, the new elements in Awakening feel more foreign than fresh, and it results in the most forgettable sequel of the bunch.

You can’t rely on the tried and true over and again. That will get stale real quick. But by thrusting an entirely new world upon us, practically unrelated at all to everything Underworld fans have seen before, is just as bad. Setting this story 12 years in the future hamstrung the natural momentum built in the previous incarnations of Selene’s world. In my opinion, here’s a few examples of other ways Wiseman and his crew could/should have gone:

1. In Underworld, Amelia, head of the American vampire coven, is assassinated by Kraven and his men. Her body is repossessed by Alexander Corvinus and his Cleaners, but no mention is made of the American coven again. Don’t you think they might want to know what happened to their leader? Expound upon her backstory and build the story around her, interspersing flashbacks with the modern day action, which could easily be with or without Selene’s involvement. Fresh, but familiar.

2. Viktor and Kraven were both decapitated, so we regrettably won’t ever see them again. I’m particularly upset with the loss of the latter in Underworld: Evolution. He had such potential to carry a film as the main villain. Given his track record for treachery, cowardice and backstabbery, there’s got to be some loophole to retcon his beheading and bring him back as a puppet master, pulling the strings that put Selene and Michael through the ringer. We’re already watching a movie about almost immortal monsters blowing each other to smithereens. Is a little reincarnation so far-fetched?

3. Hybrids of vamps and wolves are nonexistent until Michael. But what if they aren’t? A group of all-powerful hybrids bent on world domination is the logical progression for Selene and Michael to go toe-to-toe with. Add in the elements of Kraven or Amelia’s American coven to the mix, and that balance between old and new is achieved again.

Forget the movie itself. My biggest complaint is that my theatre only offered it in 3D. I wore the glasses for all of 10 minutes before experiencing concussion-like symptoms. When will Hollywood learn? 3D sucks! Being forced to pay extra for a feature I can’t enjoy is no way to get customers. Next time, I’m just going to sit it out and wait for DVD. And that might be the route to take for Underworld 5.


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