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Review: Underworld: Awakening (2012)

Underworld: Awakening (2012)

Directed by: Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein

Premise: The fourth film in the Underworld series. The ongoing war between vampires and werewolves has become public and humans have driven both species to near extinction. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) awakes in a lab after being kept frozen as a test subject and begins to fight back. 

What Works: In terms of raw popcorn action, Underworld: Awakening is one of the better installments of the series, second only to the prequel, Rise of the Lycans. Undemanding action and horror film aficionados will want to check it out; the film has lots of fights and chases that are well staged and the special effects are some of the most impressive in the Underworld series so far.

What Doesn’t: The ideas and storylines of Underworld: Awakening are half baked and that has been the problem for every Underworld film so far. The premise of the series, that there is an ongoing race war between vampires and werewolves, is a good one with a lot of potential. But in each film that premise is undercut by a frantic rush to get from one action scene to another. Awakening and its predecessors are jammed with characters, institutions, and subcultures but the films never strike a balance between the drama, the exposition, and the action. Awakening opens with an introductory sequence that ought have been a film in its own right since the storyline of an ethnic cleansing of vampires and werewolves is more interesting than anything in this film. Once the picture gets its own narrative underway it begins with a unique start, putting female action hero Selene in a vulnerable position, something the audience has never seen before in this series. But as soon as she wakes, the picture resorts to the same kinds of Matrix and Blade-inspired action scenes that have filled the last three pictures, with Selene killing everyone that stands in her way without remorse or injury. There was always a problem with Selene and the other characters of Underworld as action heroes because they are immortal and if they can never be hurt or killed there is no jeopardy to the action scenes. Awakening attempts to compensate for that with an interpersonal relationship between Selene and a young vampire girl played by India Eisley, but their interaction has no dramatic substance to it. When Awakening gets to its climax the film has some big fights and although the action is well staged and adequately entertaining, the film is hollow. There is nothing going on below the surface of any of these conflicts. In another action film that might go unnoticed but because the Underworld films have designed a compelling story world, the movies end up being like an unfinished painting in a really nice frame.

Bottom Line: Those who have enjoyed the previous Underworld films will probably like this one as well. Despite its considerable flaws, Awakening is undeniably entertaining although it might have made a better video game than a motion picture.

Episode: #374 (February 5, 2012)