I just want to get this over with, so if you find these next two reviews of the Underworld franchise on the short side of things then I apologize, but there are just so many more movies to talk about. In any case, it’s not like the next two directors up in the chairs, Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein, made any huge effort to make Underworld: Awakening anymore watchable. Nor did the single weirdest slate of co-writers for the film – made up of franchise executive producer Len Wiseman, John Hlavin, Allison Burnett, and most unforgivable of all… the sci-fi legend J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI. They dragged the creator of Babylon-5 into this mess now.
But, of course, Straczynski is very good at what we might call “social sci-fi” and this story happens to do something a lot more interesting than one would think with a franchise about vampires and werewolves fighting… it begins to wonder how would humans really start to fray into the mix themselves. The obvious answer of which is “fear for their lives and begin hunting down both sides of the animals” and we get the most uninspired Matrix-ripping dystopian future tale around right down to the opening being an extended version of Trinity’s famous police battle.
But anyway there’s a story tethered to this movie AND poor much better than this Kate Beckinsale tethered to the franchise once more as she returns as the scowling vampire without most of its vampire weaknesses Selene (maybe garlic, but, like… garlic doesn’t even get used at any point in this franchise). Now that every single human being hates her, she’s in a rush to escape the city with werewolf boytoy Michael Corvin who is played by NOT Scott Speedman, which is where the franchise has turned to Syfy production moment. They really are dedicated to implying Michael’s presence with every trick you could possibly use in the book, but it’s clearly not Speedman and they’re very quick to get him out of the picture before you can admonish the makers for it.
Getting him out of the picture meaning getting Selene captured and held by an evil scientist Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea, making another entry in the “better actor than this” hat trick) who intends to experiment on her because we’ve reached the point in the franchise where Selene has become the angriest vampire Jesus ever. When she escapes, the movie suddenly wants to be so much more of a mystery/survey of how people were affected by the vampires, but 89 minutes of runtime is not enough to explore what that demands and GOD I DO NOT WANT THIS MOVIE TO BE A SECOND LONGER THAN THAT.
In any case, it means that any mysteries – including who the young girl Eve (India Eisley) is that Selene and her sudden compatriot David (Theo James) runs into – are all wrapped up quicker than we can realize the movie wants to muse upon these developments. And the only worthwhile presence beyond the slowly waning persuasion of Beckinsale’s glare is Charles Dance playing his usual “authoritarian patriarch of high standing in society having trouble with his son (David being the son” act that he sleepwalks through (and frankly nothing about his performance here implies he’s not sleepwalking). Other than the underground vampire society Dance’s character and David live amongst, the movie just feels content to pick up and drop plots until it finally ends.
Where it puts all of its effort is on its look and that’s admittedly a little bit more interesting in concept based on the science fiction future aspects than gunmetal blue of all the other films. In execution… it’s a disaster. It’s the most expensive Underworld film to date and I would have put my hand to God that this was the cheapest of the bunch. CGI that feels a few f-stops away from the actual content of the screen, the wolves have little weight within the framing even when the dialogue is just short of begging us that “these are the biggest Wolves yet, please be scared”, dark laboratory boilerplate, and the silliest visual concept is how Selene and Eve can see through each other’s eyes in broken continuity cuts and color shades.
Underworld: Awakening is essentially a film franchise trying desperately to stand on its last legs because its creators don’t have the heart to put it down after so many creative misfires. Somebody ought to put this franchise out of its misery.
Or at least me.