Underworld: Awakening Review
By Bret Dorman
Like The Fast and The Furious “franchise,” I feel weird even calling Underworld a franchise. “Franchise?” No. A couple of silly movies that loosely tie together? Yes. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or Harry Potter… those are franchises. To me franchise means you have more than movies. You have books, toys, shirts, fast food endorsements, and Lego-themed video games. Underworld has none of these. Why? Because its not aimed for kids but its too dumb for adults. Its stuck in that awkward early teen phase, you know, when you thought vampires and werewolves fighting each other garuanteed a good movie and you would listen to Evanescene and not just because it was in a vampire/werewolf movie.
Having said all that, Underworld: Awakening is definitely the best of the bunch- er, I mean… “franchise.”
Story: Humans discover Vampires and Werewolves and basically exterminate them all except for the usual rag tag group of survivors. They even managed to capture Selene (Kate Beckinsale), the main character from the first two, and lock her up. But then she escapes! And she fights things. Also, she may or may not have a creepy daughter?
Here’s a brief rundown of my Underworld thoughts:
Underworld – Incredibly disappointing and all the potential was wasted. The ‘action’ was horrible.
Underworld: Evolution – I remember that I saw it but don’t remember anything else…
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – Didn’t see it.
Needless to say I am not a ‘fan’ of this series at all. But I’m all for the concept. Werewolves. Vampires. Fighting. Go for it. Awakening delivers a film focused on characters and stories from the first two (possibly third?) without being too much of a burden. The story is very light and moves pretty fast. Character development is sacrificed for broad plot points and the dialogue is dull and unoriginal. The action is fun and thrills can be had if you really want them, but most of its ‘badassery’ is not earned, so much as met halfway. As Kate Peterson, my co-host on our podcast, points out the Underworld series is basically just a steady incline of slightly larger lycan after slightly larger lycan. So at one point when Selene meets the ‘super lycan’, which at this point is just a bigger than normal werewolf, that’s it, and one person in my audience went “Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho… no wayyyyy!” I laughed at how easily amused he was by something so simple and bland, like he had no idea or couldn’t fathom a bigger lycan and what that meant. I just can’t audibly validate this easy plot devise and character design as badass as something like learning Darth Vadar is Luke’s father. I hold my action movies up to higher standards. I’m not going to fault Awakening for not meeting them, but I’m also not going to meet it halfway…
The introduction of a super vampire-werewolf half breed is admirable, but again, the character design is pretty weak. I like how Selene treats the kid as a stranger. Because to her, she is a stranger and the man she loved, is gone from her life and now she is just supposed to take care of this kid who she just met. It’s a lot for her to process and the Selene openly states this when the kid confronts her. It’s a slightly unexpected twist that eventually caves into sappy “I’ll never let you go” territory.
The half-breed hybrid kid is a source of tension amongst other vampires. I get that not all vampires would be complete badasses and that it’s cool they half an elite warrior class (death dealers!) but every single other vampire in this movie is a pussy. Even the gung-ho let’s-fight-back we’re-better-than-this vampire imemdiately get’s his ass handed to him. And other than a minor costume flair here or there, all the characters look the same. No character is easily distinguishable from the next which means no character is really cooler than any of the others. For great examples on badass characters design and quirks… watch a Robert Rodriquez movie (Desperado, Machete). Here, Selene spends the entire movie in basically one outfight which is just an all black sleek catsuit. Sexy? I guess, kind of. Cool? Not really.
As far as the lycans go, it seems that for the most part (again, never saw Rise of the Lycans) there are one dimensionly evil. The vampires have their good guys bad guys, and inbetweeners but all dogs are bad. Plain and simple. It’s not fun when the villains of your movie are just villains because they are a different supernatural species than your main hero. Villains are important to a movie. Here, we spend most of the movie with a relatively faceless one and the only threat is the slightly bigger lycans. Also, the werewolf design itself is pretty week. They look like sick dogs rather than formidable opponents. The one scene from the trailer where one is hopping from car to car just makes it look like a hairless silly putty model with its limbs stretching out way too awkwardly. I get that in the movie they have been in hiding for several years, but there’s got to be a way to make being a beaten down, on the run, we’re-better-than-this, backed into a corner werewolf look cooler.
I think it’s interesting that super(natural)hero/comic book movies (and Underworld certainly falls into this kind of realm) are taking a more scientific approach to their roots. We saw this in Blade II when the vampires were experimenting with genes and most newer comic book films pride them-self on being grounded in a sort of ‘this could really be plausible’ kind of thing (Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman). Either people aren’t as interested in the magic of the super natural/hero anymore or they are bored by it and looking for a new spin on a well treaded genre.
The idea that the main scientist guy is really a werewolf looking for even more superpowerness isn’t anything new by now, but the fact that it is so ingrained and part of the formula is interesting. At one point it was an interesting social statement or simply a unique (if sometime’s flawed or misguided) attempt at originality. Here, it is just a mandatory part of the story.
The super lycan is by far the best looking werewolf of the movie and the final fight is pretty good. Even as the father gets involved resulting in a half blown off head I was pretty surprised at how much cooler the final fight was opposed to anything else in the movie. They really had some fun with it. The escape sequence has its moments, mostly being Selene showing off for the trailer, but it’s sad that the rest of the movie seems so bland compared to some of the genuinely exciting moments. Why can’t the whole movie be a constant having fun action-fest? Why try to make the couple of cool parts seem cooler by watering down the rest when you can have cool part after cool part and a couple of REALLY cool parts? This isn’t ‘impossible’ to achieve. M:I:4 went above and beyond setting the ‘minimum’ action moment. I’m not saying the movie can’t treat its subject and characters seriously, as some people really do like them, but I am giving them permission to have more fun during the action. No one would be disappointed by that.
In conclusion, I am not being harsh on Underworld: Awakening because I HATED the first, but because I really want to see a good vampire vs werewolf flick. And I want action movies in general to keep getting better and better. Awakening is the best of the bunch, but could still be a bit better and truly earn its place in the genre.
Final Grade: B-