Genre: Fantasy/Action Director: Mans Marlind, Bjorn Stein Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Michael Ealy, Stephen Rea, Charles Dance, India Eisley, Sandrine Holt, Theo James, Richard Cetrone, Robert Lawrenson RunTime: 1 hr 28 mins Rating: M18 (Violence) Released By: Sony Pictures Releasing International Official Website:http://www.entertheunderworld.com/
Opening Day: 2 February 2012
Synopsis: "Underworld: Awakening" brings a stunning new dimension to the epic battle between Vampires and Lycans, as the first film in the franchise to shoot in 3D. Kate Beckinsale, star of the first two films, returns in her lead role as the vampire warrioress Selene, who escapes imprisonment to find herself in a world where humans have discovered the existence of both Vampire and Lycan clans, and are conducting an all-out war to eradicate both immortal species.
Just as how Milla Jovovich has come to define the ‘Resident Evil’ film series, Kate Beckinsale’s name has become synonymous with the ‘Underworld’ franchise- so much so that the third instalment ‘Underworld: Rise of the Lycans’ which she sat out in place of her doppelganger Rhona Mitra ended up with the worst box-office of the trilogy. And so her husband Len Wiseman has wisely (pardon the pun) placed her front and centre into this fourth entry, which eases up on the mythology of the earlier films in favour of a balls-out wall-to-wall action-packed thrill ride.
You could say that ‘Underworld: Awakening’ has gone somewhat the way of the ‘Resident Evil’ movies, where plot is kept to a minimum and the absence of which is substituted with loud, and we mean very loud, action of the sexy female in spandex type. Ah yes, did we forget to mention that Beckinsale still looks smashing as ever in her black leather outfit, the very opportunity to see her kick ass enough to draw out genre fanboys of all ages? Indeed, Beckinsale is an arresting presence playing the vampire warrioress Selene, even as the story proves less so.
Not to fret if you haven’t seen the earlier movies, Swedish directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein do neophytes a favour with a tidy recap of the key events of the first two movies ‘Underworld’ and ‘Underworld: Evolution’ before unveiling the current state of affairs where vampire and werewolf alike are now hunted by the humans bent on exterminating both species. Lured into an ambush with her lover, the vampire-Lycan hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman), Selene is left cryogenically frozen for 12 years. Her release from the detention lab of Antigen, a biotech firm looking to engineer a vaccine against vampires and Lycans, was no accident- she is freed by another test subject.
Turns out the head scientist Dr Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea) has also been experimenting with her daughter Eve (India Eisley), the latter’s sudden transformation in the midst of a high-speed chase from hapless child to feral vampire-werewolf hybrid not for the weak of heart. Selene and Eve find shelter with David (the fittingly buff Theo James) whose father Thomas (Charles Dance) is the head of a vampire coven living below ground. Lycans come, kill most of the clan, take Eve away, prompting Selene to go to her rescue, but not before finding an unlikely ally in the form of a sympathetic cop Sebastian (Michael Ealy). That about is as much narrative the quartet of writers (Len Wiseman, John Hlavin, J. Michael Straczynski, and Allison Burnett) brings to the brief 84-min movie, leaving the rest of the work to Marlind and Stein.
Thankfully, the pair, who is attempting their first big-screen Hollywood feature, proves more than worthy for the task. Making full-use of their mid-sized budget, they stage a couple of impressive action setpieces- beginning with Selene’s breakout from the maximum-security Antigen lab, to a vicious attack by the Lycans on the underground vampire covenant, and culminating finally in a thrilling three-way fight that pits Selene against an alpha Lycan, Eve against Dr Lane, and David against a horde of Lycans- despite the fact that none of them particularly put the third dimension (a first for the franchise) to good use.
Marlind and Stein also deserve compliments for not overdosing on the slo-mo (here’s looking at you, Paul W.S. Anderson) and framing each scene properly so you can take in the action in its full glory. For action fans, this is simply an orgasmic pleasure, with nary a dull moment throughout the entire movie- the tense and tight pacing admittedly one of the advantages of having the leanest runtime of the entries.
That said, it sacrifices character (Rea’s one-dimensional villain is a poor substitute for Bill Nighy’s deliciously evil vampire elder) and narrative depth (Wiseman’s earlier attempts to build modern-day vampire folklore is all but missing here)- both of which may earn the ire of some franchise fans. Still, this is the most consistently action-packed entry of the franchise, and succeeds admirably on the level of an adrenaline-fuelled thrill ride. As per the norm for franchise entries, it leaves room for yet another chapter, though we hope that the next time we revisit the ‘Underworld’, there will be more reason to stay on than just Beckinsale and some furious non-stop action.
(Sacrificing plot and character in favour of pure all-out action, this fourth entry promises thrilling action and the return of Kate Beckinsale in tight spandex)