Review: ‘Underworld: Awakening’ (strobe lights, the movie)

Besides the fact most of the movie could trigger an epileptic seizure, someone seems to have left off the last ten-to-thirty minutes.

After remaining inexplicably undiscovered to modern humankind after centuries of war, Vampires and Lycans find themselves being hunted by mortals using the same kind of high-tech weaponry they’ve used to attack one another. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) finds herself in the crosshairs while trying to reach her Vampire/Lycan hybrid lover Michael (Scott Speedman) before an explosion occurs. Awakening (get it?) twelve years later after being freed from cryogenic stasis, Selene suits up to find Michael, assuming the mysterious overheard escapee “Subject 2” must have been him fleeing the biogenics lab. With a newfound ability to see through the eyes of someone else, another Vampire named David (Theo James) assists Selene in locating her counterpart: a mysterious teenage girl named Eve (India Eisley) she’s never met before… with eyes identical to her lost lover.

Since the 2003 release of the original Len Wiseman-directed Underworld, we get a new installment every three or four years. After Underworld: Evolution, star Kate Beckinsale lended only a narrative voiceover to Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. Trailers for this fourth film in the franchise feature the return of Kate’s deathdealer Selene, but now she’s fighting both humans and Lycans (werewolves). What there doesn’t seem to be any of is the rich history and backstabbing supernatural court politics that necessitated all the glorious gun fighting and critter combat. Are they hiding these nuggets for the film itself or tossed the history aside to go forward into new audiences?

Awakening seems to be the first of a new trilogy, barely referencing the past or old characters other than Selene herself; Michael appears via archive footage only. Is it telling that each new film is getting shorter? With all the court politics ended, our new conspiracy feels more borrowed from Resident Evil than prior Underworld installments. Beckinsale still brings the pain, but CGI has replaced much of the practical effects we all thought were computer-generated in the original film to begin with. While the story works as an excuse to have Vampires shooting Lycans, it also lacks any weight to make us care about any of it. The twists are obvious, new characters randomly show up with little or no explanation — or any reason to trust them — and the more you think about where little Eve came from, the farther your eyes are going to roll back into your head.

Yet the biggest sin here is how disappointing the creative and budgetary shortfalls are. After one so-so battle in a parking garage, the film abruptly ends — not in a cliffhanger kind of way but more like we-couldn’t-afford-to-shoot-the-actual-scripted-ending. If this isn’t the case, then there must be an ending somewhere… and without it, there’s nothing left except sequelitis set-up kinds of stuff. And strobe lights — lots and lots of strobe lights. Doesn’t anyone pay their electric bill or replace old bulbs in “Unidentified City” anymore? Maybe consider investing in some fancy new LEDs?

At under ninety minutes, Underworld: Awakening is rated an underutilized R and seems both stripped down in complexity for a new audience as well as cut into a bite-sized chunk to more easily swallow… neither of which is going to draw new fans to the franchise or keep current fans interested.

2 Skull Recommendation Out of Four

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