July 16, 2012


The Underworld series has always been more style than substance. Or, more accurately, all style and no substance. That’s not necessarily a fault; plenty of films have succeeded primarily on flair. Alex Proyas’ The Crow, for example. The original Underworld, helmed by Len Wiseman and starring wife Kate Beckinsale, never approached (or aimed for) the haunting visual poetry of that film. But in the beginning, it got by on an inherently cool premise (werewolves and vampires at war) and competently staged action. Four films in, the novelty’s worn off.

Underworld: Awakening sees Beckinsale slipping back into her famed leather catsuit after sitting out the last prequel entry; and while she fits the role of undead “Death Dealer” Selene well as ever, the franchise to which she returns is a bloated corpse. Hit the jump for our review of Underworld: Awakening on Blu-ray.

Kate-Beckinsale-Underworld-4-Awakening-imageAs the action returns to modern times, humanity has become aware of the supernatural species and kicked off a worldwide cleansing. Selene, machine pistols ablazin’, manages to get ahead of the death squads and rendezvous with her lover Michael (a CGI Scott Speedman replacing the slightly more expensive flesh-and-blood version) just in time to see him ambiguously blown away. Cut to 12 years later—Selene awakens in a research lab to find a world where her kind have been driven deep into hiding; it turns out she also has a daughter (a vamp-wolf hybrid like Michael) who both her human hunters and blood-enemy lycans want to get hold of.

Joining Beckinsale this time out are Michael Ealy as a police detective, Stephen Rea as the clearly not-what-he-seems scientist in charge of vampire studies and a grossly over-qualified Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) as the leader of a vampire coven. You need to know all of this because…you don’t. None of it matters in the least. The characters are just the people that hold the guns/admittedly-kind-of-cool silver whips; the plot is just the junk that happens in between slow-mo wolf executions.

Theo-James-Underworld-4-Awakening-imageOf course, movies that aim only for kinetic blood-and-guts mayhem don’t need to concern themselves too much with character or story…as long as they bring the fun. But the problem with this franchise is that it’s never so much as cracked a smile. It’s cold, sterile, and insists that you take it seriously.

New directors Mans Marlin and Bjorn Stein (working off a script from Wiseman) hold fast to this tradition. When the bullets aren’t flying, you’re treated to flat, perfunctory scenes of Selene lamenting her missing beau, rallying downtrodden vampires to take back what’s theirs and the dramatic deaths of characters whose names you don’t even remember, all of which you care about because…well….just do it, alright?!?! Marlin and Stein are busy using their computer to make a werewolf explode!

underworld-awakening-blu-ray-coverThe cast does nothing to elevate the material, but that’s only because the material is buried six feet under, encased in cement. It’s 79 minutes of empty, humorless spectacle that isn’t even exhilarating on a visceral level; we saw every trick these beasties have to offer two films ago.

Alas, despite not even having enough footage for a full-length actioner, the ending does blatantly set up a sequel, teasing the possibility of even more CGI Scott Speedman. Why the hell not? The Underworld experience couldn’t possibly get any hollower.

Special Features:

-Filmmakers’ Commentary
-Blooper Reel
-‘Heavy Prey’ Music Video by Lacey Sturm Featuring Geno Lenardo
-‘Cracking the Underworld’ Picture-in-Picture Experience
-Five ‘Making of’ Featurettes

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