When we last left Selene and Michael, for those keeping track, in Underworld Evolution, there were a whole bunch of dead Lycans, dead vampires and dead vampire elders.
Selene was now a vampire impervious to the sun’s rays and her handsome beau, Michael, was a vampire/Lycan hybrid who could miraculously cheat death or something. Then the franchise leaned back into the past for a “Spartacus with werewolves and cliff-side sex” prequel called Underworld Rise of the Lycans. With that story out of the way, there was nowhere to go but forward.
And Underworld Awakening – a tireless, but repetitive and empty sequel – has gone forward, way forward. Twelve years ahead of Evolution, in fact.
If you haven’t seen the previous films, don’t fret – in a flurry of images from Underworld and Underworld Evolution, Awakening opens with a montage that brings you up to speed. Then it hits you with a whammy: The humans know about the vampires and the Lycans. Yikes! And in very broad story strokes, we see the near annihilation of both species. This is too bad, really, because there’s a story there to be told in and of itself. But Awakening concerns itself only with Michael and Selene at first.
In the midst of this genocide, the two are separated in an explosive run-in with the humans (no, Scott Speedman is not back as Michael, instead they cast a faux Scott Speedman for the brief time Michael is on screen). Selene awakens many years later, a captive of Antigen – a human-run laboratory conducting experiments on the vampires and Lycans. She escapes, desperate to find Michael, discovers she has a daughter, Eve, and goes on the search for her man with hybrid child in tow. The world as she knows it has changed. The vampire society is in a bit of disarray and feral, emaciated Lycans run free in the sewers. But none of this concerns Selene…because she must find Michael.
Awakening feels like one of those stepping stone stories to a much meatier tale. Its story is rather paper thin, bereft of the thick politics and drama that permeated the non-action filled moments of the previous films. It’s a determined sequel, I’ll give it that, out to give you the most bang for your buck with wild and incredibly violent fight sequences. And a lot of the action is fueled by Selene’s single-minded motivation. She’s out to get Michael at any cost – even if it means chomping on her kid’s wrist to draw blood and Eve’s memories for information (if you’ve seen the films, you know what I’m talking about). This single-mindedness works against the film because that’s all Awakening really has to go on. Still, the fans will likely groove to seeing Selene turn into The Terminator, wiping out the bad guys in a remorseless fashion or sauntering into a building, regardless of the bullet hits she is taking in the back.
There are very few moments of Selene processing what exactly is going on around her, and Awakening needed those quiet dramatic beats. Even her reaction to the arrival of Eve is wooden and not exactly maternal. But, you go into this wanting to see Selene kick some ass, and that’s what you get in spades.
Michael Ealy is wasted in the film as a detective on Selene’s trail; but they gave him an interesting back story that almost saves his character. Almost. Eve, played by India Eisley, shows the most promise in this film and future films, if they decide to go there. Eisley does a fair job with what she’s been given to play with which is a young girl coming to grips with getting incredibly monstrous from time to time. And speaking of “monster,” there’s a ludicrous CGI giant Lycan who, in human form, resembles Chris Martin of Coldplay. Stephen Rea, meanwhile, is truly sleepwalking through this film and Theo James admirably tries to give the film some emotional weight as a vampire torn between his duty to his clan and standing behind Selene’s cause.
But what a vapid cause it is. Yes, we get it. Find Michael. Root us in something deeper, is all I ask. Or take a moment to breathe and remind us of that connection Selene and Michael have. Sure, there’s Eve – their damn offspring – as a tangible reminder, but even that seems like a throwaway plot point. Underworld Awakening seems intent on sending you on a whirlwind of 3D action in the Underworld universe and nothing more, stringing together set piece after set piece until you’re worn down.
Look, you die-hard fans out here will probably love it. You’ll embrace Selene again. You’ll embrace Eve. Those tolerant of the series, like myself, will definitely be seeing the series’ stretch marks in this entry. And, of course, Awakening paves the way for a sequel, leaving Selene in no better a place than where she started thus rendering this story pointless, even by Underworld movie standards, so, I call shenanigans on that.
Rating: 5 out of 10