Underworld: Awakening (2012)

Underworld: AwakeningStarring Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy, Theo James, India Eisley, Charles Dance

Directed by Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein

After giving fans a Kate Beckinsale-less prequel with 2009's Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Selene is back and better than ever for Underworld: Awakening, which has the Death Dealer fighting against both Lycans and a powerful corporation named Antigen whose primary focus is eradicating the world of the non-human "plague" by creating a cure for the otherworldly creatures.

At the start of the flick, we find out that once the humans discovered vampires and werewolves living amongst them, a "purge" was ordered, and both species were driven to the brink of extinction. During the genocide Selene was captured by Antigen and held in a cryogenic tank for 12 years while the company experimented on the unsuspecting vampire warrior.

Of course, if Selene stayed frozen, we wouldn't have a fourth movie so she makes it out of Antigen (with her trademark skintight suit intact) and is introduced to a shocking new world where she no longer has only werewolves to contend with but the human race as well. There are a few more shocks and surprises in store for Selene as the story continues in Awakening, but as someone who's a firm believer in not posting review spoilers, all I will say is that fans of the franchise will be happy with what directors Märlind & Stein have cooked up here under the guidance of Underworld co-creator Len Wiseman, who's on board Awakening as both a producer and story writer.

For those of you out there who aren’t really fans of the Underworld franchise, Awakening most likely won't do much to change your mind on the series: It seems like it was made with the fans of the series in mind who have been waiting for Selene's return to the big screen after almost a six-year absence and does a fantastic job of getting back to the original story that drew us in almost 10 years ago.

A lot of detractors have always had issues with the amount of exposition that seems to get jam-packed into the Underworld movies, which is a fair assessment. But as a fan, I've always enjoyed the rich history that Wiseman, Kevin Grevioux and Danny McBride took the time to establish with their story as opposed to a franchise like Resident Evil (a series Underworld finds itself compared to a lot) that is purely action-driven; at least the Underworld movies try to give audiences characters they can care about, which is a rarity in the action genre these days.

There's no doubt that Awakening is the film that has finally gotten the Underworld narrative vs. asskicking formula almost down pat- the film does offer up a lot of exposition and story for us, but the film never lags and the action itself this time around feels far more brutal and violent than its predecessors. Clearly, Märlind & Stein were heartily embracing their R rating as they've got a few gore-filled tricks up their sleeves that are wickedly fun to experience in 3D.

The performances in Underworld: Awakening were far better than I was expecting going into the fourth installment; Beckinsale seems like she's finally owning the character of Selene and delivers her most mature work in the series. Selene's never been the deepest of characters, and while she certainly doesn't get all "lovey-dovey" on us for the fourth film, I was surprised by the amount of emotion Beckinsale gave to the role in just a few key scenes, finally giving the talented actress more to do than slaughtering Lycans and acting insolently against her elders.

Of course, fans show up to watch Beckinsale's fight scenes, and what we get in Awakening is hands down some of the best fight choreography work of the entire franchise. Beckinsale herself finally seems more comfortable with her moves, and she's got some pretty huge adversaries to take down in the fourth film, making Selene's fights some truly awesome stuff to behold on the big screen (if you dig that sort of thing).

Michael Ealy, who plays a human cop and unlikely ally of Selene, is one of my favorite guys that pops up a lot in non-genre films these days, and he's got some great chemistry playing off of Beckinsale's cool and calculated Selene. Brilliant character actor Rea plays the main bad guy working behind the scenes at Antigen and adds a level of eloquence to Awakening that had been sort of lacking in previous Underworld entries. I would love to see him return (not a spoiler, folks; Bill Nighy returned to part three after being beheaded so anything's possible; whether Rea lives or dies, you'll have to see for yourself) in future installments as he does a fantastic job with his portrayal of an evil corporate scientist who keeps pushing his research for a cure way too far.

In terms of the look and feel of Underworld: Awakening, of course the color blue is still very much focal color of this franchise, and the color palette looks surprisingly great in 3D. With the Underworld films having such a dark aesthetic to them, that was a big concern for me going into the fourth chapter as to whether or not the 3D would be able to pop as well with a movie that is mostly blue and black hued. The directing duo of Märlind & Stein clearly knew this would be somewhat of an issue and incorporate a lot of scenes that have a somewhat "traditional" and unsaturated look to them, keeping a nice balance of the blue tones we've come to expect and giving fans also a bit of a "new look" for the Underworld franchise.

The 3D itself is pretty great (at least far better than Shark Night 3D, which was the last flick I saw in that format). It plays subtly when needed and also features a few "in your face" moments, too, which is always fun. It has a good blend of both 3D approaches, and if you can swing the extra few bucks, Underworld: Awakening is definitely a lot of fun to enjoy in 3D. For those of you over the 3D gimmick, I'm sure the movie will look great when presented in 2D too.

The digital effects (something I've always found to be a bit distracting about the Underworld films) this time around are far better than what we've experienced previously in the series. While I would have loved to see more practical effects being used in Awakening, practical werewolves are just not going to happen in an Underworld movie, and as a fan, you either come to terms with it or you don't. As someone who has come to terms with it, the beasties this time around look far less cartoonish, and one creature in particular (no spoilers!) is quite the fearsome sight to behold.

As a fan of the franchise, Underworld: Awakening feels like the movie I've been waiting for ever since the first one was released in 2003. Beckinsale has never been better, the story and action finally blends together a bit more smoothly, and incorporating humans into the Vampire/Lycan war breathes a new life into the series. Awakening won't do much for the detractors, but for fans- this is the Underworld sequel we've all been patiently waiting to see for almost six years now, and hopefully Screen Gems won't keep waiting another half-dozen years for the next chapter in Selene's journey.

3 1/2 out of 5

Discuss Underworld: Awakening in the comments section below!


Terminal's picture

Three and a half knives? Lordy. This movie had no story, and what little it presented was recycled scifi crapola. Man this movie stunk ass.

Submitted by Terminal on Sat, 12/01/2012 - 5:50am.
Zombie Dad's picture

I agree with MonsterMash. I'm glad they moved away from the Vampire Love-Story and focused on the action. It didn't hurt that Kate looked amazing as usual!

Submitted by Zombie Dad on Sat, 02/18/2012 - 7:37pm.
Zombiekid2001's picture

I went and saw Underworld: Awakening last week with my Dad in IMAX 3D. I thought the movie was awesome! Cool special effects and action!

Submitted by Zombiekid2001 on Sat, 02/18/2012 - 5:37pm.
MonsterMash's picture

I just saw it today, and I really dug it. It was fun. I don't really care for the half-ass love story, and thankfully, there isn't much of it here. It's the weakest part of the series, and its not here to drag Awakening down.

Submitted by MonsterMash on Sat, 01/28/2012 - 10:34pm.
elric300's picture

Too much blue!

It was fun, though CLEARLY the opening act, and a short one at that, of a new trilogy. The 3d was alright, considering how dark everything is. In one scene, Selene is asked how she can walk in daylight. It's daylight? How can you tell?! Besides the lack of colour, which didn't help the o'kay 3d, I thought it was good until it just stopped in mid action.

Submitted by elric300 on Mon, 01/23/2012 - 4:58pm.
Matt Serafini's picture

Kinda torn on this one (SPOILERS):

Liked the idea of it a lot. And the beginning was well-handled even if sort of baffling (what the heck was Selene doing just hanging around some warehouse if they were skipping town)?

From there it's sort of fun - the action has nice energy, fight scenes are fun and violent. But the story never really fills in in a way that satisfied me. For example, the whole middle with Charles Dance feels rushed, despite being an important piece of the story (and why the hell can Selene suddenly bring dead vamps back to life?).

But my biggest issue is the Michael Ealy character. What a worthless waste of real estate in a film that's much too short as it is. It's never explained how Selene knows about him. Yes, he looks for her in the first act, but she certainly is unaware of him. Then she just shows up at his work when it's time for the unlikely team-up.

I'll never understand why Sony felt like releasing a 78-minute sequel (sans credits) felt like a good idea. It feels like half of a movie. It's not BAD, but I wouldn't recommend it either.

I expect this to be the nail in the Underworld coffin ... just a shame the idiots that made this movie couldn't have bothered to wrap the story up. Now we've got an open-ended mess that I doubt we'll see any real conclusion to.

My only hope would be for a wayyyyy extended Blu-ray cut that adds 20-30 minutes back into this mess. I doubt it'll happen, though, and I couldn't give this theatrical cut more than a 2 1/2 at most. Too bad, I really wanted to like this.

Submitted by Matt Serafini on Sat, 01/21/2012 - 9:39am.
nonserviam03's picture

I had much the same reaction. The action is great but the script just sucks and it's super rushed. I definitely hope there's a director's cut that adds some deleted scenes, but I seriously doubt it'll fix the movie.

I don't think it'll be the nail in the coffin unless it tanks, since the movie REEKS of "we're setting up a new trilogy."

If anyone's curious, I reviewed it...


Submitted by nonserviam03 on Sat, 01/21/2012 - 6:55pm.
Matt Serafini's picture

^ Yeah, it actually seems to be doing well this weekend.

I was going off of the people I was with (who didn't like it at all), and the audience who kind of sighed/grumbled when it was over.

I will certainly check it out again on Blu-ray, and I would like to see an extended version. 78 minutes without credits is really kinda stupid.

Submitted by Matt Serafini on Sat, 01/21/2012 - 10:16pm.
Matt Serafini's picture

Big fan of the franchise. Looking forward to seeing it tonight.

Submitted by Matt Serafini on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 2:10pm.

How much gore is in the film? So far only EVOLUTION has convinced me in terms of monster and splatter effects.

Submitted by Caterpillar on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 10:48am.
thehorrorchick's picture

A. Lot. You should be pleased.

Submitted by thehorrorchick on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 2:56pm.
nonserviam03's picture

The script is pretty crappy. I mean, it's filled with bad plot devices and lazy writing. like the whole "seeing through her eyes" thing or the "oh he's dead? No big deal, lemme just cut him open and tickle his heart" part or the cop joining her side waaaay too easily. That, and the side characters kind of suck (the vamp dude and the cop).

That being said, the action is well-done, and there's a LOT more of it. I also liked that werewolf-zilla shows up more than once, is actually important to the plot, and is an actual character. I expected him to just show up, be cool for a scene, and then get killed off. I also didn't see the one big twist coming (or the minor twist that sets up the next movie for that matter).

Overall, it's watchable, but hardly my favorite in the franchise.

Submitted by nonserviam03 on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 4:16am.
theGoldenSimatar's picture

The IMAX 3D looked amazing.

My only issue with the film (overlooking the CGI in places) was that the pacing was a bit too rushed in the opening; but once that was done the film settled in. While short; certainly didnt' feel that way.

Really dug it; though my only hope is that the film is allowed to breath a bit more.

Submitted by theGoldenSimatar on Fri, 01/20/2012 - 3:49am.

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