Title: Underworld: Awakening
Directors: Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein (‘Shelter’)
Starring: Kate Beckensale, Theo James (TV’s ‘Downton Abbey’), Michael Ealy (‘Takers’), India Eisley (TV’s ‘The Secret Life of the American Teenager’) and Stephen Rea
Creating a successful horror-action film is never easy, as the director and screenwriter has to perfectly balance an entertaining plot line with entertaining stunts and frightening emotional and physical scares. But filmmaker Len Wiseman did just that when he co-founded the ‘Underworld’ franchise, which focuses on the centuries-old epic battle between Vampires and Lycans. The new fourth installment in the series, ‘Underworld: Awakening,’ sees the return of the first two films’ main star, Wiseman’s wife, Kate Beckensale, who effortlessly embraces the role once again after six years. The actress once again performs unique action sequences while giving an emotional performance as the vampire Selene, which makes up for the second sequel’s surprisingly and unfortunate lack of plot-line.
‘Underworld: Awakening’ picks up six months where its predecessor, the series’ first sequel, ‘Evolution,’ leaves off. Selene is captured by humans, and government officials and the public learn of the Vampire and Lycan species. Humans began a crusade to eradicate both immortal species by wiping out the infections that create them. Selene is separated from Michael (portrayed by Scott Speedman, shown through archived clips from the first two ‘Underworld’ films), her Lycan-Vampire hybrid love, and is imprisoned in cryogenic suspension for 12 years.
After waking up and discovering that both immortal species have been virtually eliminated by humans since she was imprisoned, she manages to escape the facility where she was being held, Antigen. The facility is run by Dr. Jacob Lane (played by Stephen Rea), who claims to be ridding the world of both immortal species. Helped by fellow vampire David (portrayed by Theo James) and Detective Sebastian (played by Michael Ealy), who was once married to a vampire, Selene manages to fight off Dr. Lane, save Eve (portrayed by India Eisley), the hybrid daughter she never knew she had with Michael, and search for her love.
The plot-line in ‘Awakening,’ the second sequel in the franchise, following the 2003 original film, 2006’s ‘Evolution’ and 2009’s prequel, ‘Rise of the Lycans,’ unfortunately fails to live up to its three predecessors. Wiseman, who directed and co-wrote the first two films and produced the prequel, returned to the series to produce and work on the script for the fourth movie. The filmmaker created an in-depth, memorable explanation surrounding the conflict between the Vampires and Lycans in the original trilogy.
The first three ‘Underworld’ films were also effective in the fact that they only used action sequences to build upon the Vampire and Lycans’ hatred for each other, and their determination to kill off the other species to make up for the wrongs their enemies had committed. With the human race discovering the existence of both immortal species in ‘Awakening,’ as well both species wanting to protect Eve from the other, Wiseman had more than enough material to create another detailed, constructive storyline.
After ‘Awakening’ initially shows promise in its storyline by showing the bloodshed and fighting between the humans and immortal species, Wiseman ultimately failed to construct an in-depth plot for the second sequel. The conflict with the humans disappointingly all but disappears, and the only struggle that remains is how to protect Eve. Wiseman and directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, who both make their first appearance in the ‘Underworld’ franchise with the second sequel, rely too heavily on the action sequences to create conflict. ‘Awakening’ should have instead focused on the characters’ backstories, particularly Eve’s, and the unique mythology Wiseman helped create, to better explain why both species were so interested in her.
However, Beckensale easily stepped back into her role of Selene, after only providing a brief voice-over for ‘Rise of the Lycans.’ The actress once again portrayed the former Death Dealer as being motivated by her emotions to avenge the wrongs committed to her and her family. But she used her fighting skills and tough demeanor to protect those she loves. In ‘Awakening,’ Selene is initially confused on why she was imprisoned and who Eve is. But once Selene realizes that Eve’s her daughter and Antigen is researching their DNA, the actress skillfully portrays her character as being determined to protect not only herself, but the daughter she created with Michael.
The original ‘Underworld’ trilogy is unique amongst horror-action franchises, as it created an in-depth, memorable conflict between the Vampires and Lycans, and subtly reflected the racial conflicts still plaguing society. ‘Underworld: Awakening’ does deserve merit for continuing the war between the two immortal species, and what happened when humans discovered the existence of both. However, Mårlind, Stein and Wiseman all failed to create another intriguing, detail-intensive entry in the series, and instead rely too heavily on the action sequences. But Beckensale gave another emotional portrayal as protagonist Selene, proving that not all horror films have to rely on physical scares to frighten audiences.
Written by: Karen Benardello