Movie Review: Underworld: Awakening
By Matthew Huntley
January 31, 2012

Good news: it's a barbecue! Bad news: you're the other other white meat.

Underworld: Awakening is 80 minutes of noise. It’s one of the loudest movies I’ve seen in a long time. Thunder claps; people get thrown against walls and through glass; windows smash; bones break; heads snap; cars crash; vampires hiss; werewolves growl; guns fire; buildings explode. The sound technicians either had a field day or were ripping their hair out. In any case, they were busy.

It’s just a shame all that sound wasn’t utilized by a better screenplay. Oh, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of substance or innovation from a fourth Underworld movie, but I was at least hoping the return of Kate Beckinsale would freshen things up a bit, perhaps put a new spin on the unsinkable vampire-werewolf mythology that Hollywood has all but exhausted.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Awakening is pretty much a series of extravagant action scenes strung together by the tiniest thread of a plot. It’s not terrible or offensive, and it’s often so outrageous it becomes amusing, but even with such a short runtime, the movie ends up running around in circles and we grow numb to what we’re seeing and hearing. Had it more focus, I might have given it a pass.

It opens with a monologue from Selene (Beckinsale), the vampire heroine with extraordinary abilities who specializes, as most vampires do, in killing lycans, a.k.a. werewolves. Unlike regular vamps, she moves at hyper speeds and is impervious to sunlight. She recaps the first two movies for us (the third, if you recall, was a prequel and did not feature her character), in which she fell in love with Michael Corvin, the only known vampire-lycan hybrid, a trait that makes him extra special and even more threatening.

On the run from vampires and lycans alike, Selene and Michael learn they face a new threat: humans. Mankind has recently discovered vamps and werewolves exist and believe they’re the result of a fatal virus outbreak. Humans go on a killing spree to purge the world of the two races, and after believing they succeeded in exterminating werewolves, their focus becomes vampires. They capture Selene and Michael thinking they can foster their blood for a cure.

Here’s my question: during the purge, why didn’t the vampires and lycans simply kick human butt? We see how vastly stronger, faster and moral-free these supernatural races are, so why do they let the pesky humans, with their mechanized guns, run the show? Did it ever occur to them to fight back?

Anyway, 12 years pass and Selene finds herself frozen upside down in a cryogenic lab. After her escape and the first of many bloody battles, she begins to see visions through someone else’s eyes and discovers she has a daughter named Eve (India Eisley). Like her father, Eve is a hybrid and a deceptive team of scientists, led by Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea), have been holding the poor girl in captivity to exploit her genes. Detective Sebastian (Michael Ealy), who’s human, along with another vampire named David (Theo James), team up with Selene to get her daughter back before…well I won’t give away any more plot details, but they’re not as interesting as you think.

What ensues are all the usual chase scenes, stabbings, shootings, decapitations, throat-rippings and entrails splattering we’ve come to expect from a movie like this, only they’re louder. None of these are bad things necessarily; the movie has a ferocious energy and style, and once you realize it’s going to be unabashedly violent and grotesque, you either go along with it or simply wait it out. Thankfully it doesn’t go on so long that it becomes frustrating and we’re even willing to overlook a plot hole involving a silver hand grenade (if you can explain to me why the victim of it didn’t survive after everything we learn, please do so).

But my main problem with Underworld: Awakening is its plot and characters are too thin to really care about, and when there’s nothing to care about, there’s not a whole lot to find entertaining. The narrative threads never come together and the excessive style and action aren’t enough to compensate. Instead of watching a fully realized story, I felt like I was watching a series of special effects sequences, which can only go so far. The movie is harmless in the long run, but it ultimately lacks purpose. It becomes just another way to pass the time, and while there are far worse movies you can do that with, there are also far better ones.