Film Review: Underworld: Awakening

It is safe to say that Underworld: Awakening is the fourth best installment in the Underworld franchise. Which is the nice way of saying it was the worst. This is an unfortunate occurrence because I really wanted to like it. The trailers looked decent and had the principle cast back (by this, I mean Kate Beckinsale). And chief among its positives was that it didn’t look to be a complete waste of space in comparison with Rise of the Lycans, which was little more than an excuse to re-explore the Underworld mythology in the most annoying way possible. I take that back. The most promising part of the film was the involvement of J. Michael Straczynsky (of Babylon 5 fame) as one of the three (!) screenwriters.

Yet in comparison to Awakening, Rise of the Lycans comes across as a story of profound depth and insight, well-plotted and solidly in the “good flick” category. I can say this because Awakening has no plot to speak of, like, at all. This is no exaggeration. From the description on the back of the DVD case we learn that the humans have discovered the vampire/lycan clans and have waged war upon them. Why this is we are not told. Seline is captured. (Why is she not killed with the rest? Again, we’re not told.) She literally wakes up and escapes in the space of five minutes from a top-secret facility filled with guards. Oh, nobody is remotely a match for you – that really raises the tension. She might as well have been fighting sticks of margarine. So then there’s this girl who is also a hybrid and we get a massive info-dump of backstory that should have spread itself out over the course of the film. And some painfully bad dialogue, some poor conflicts in side characters who have no real point in the film, an old guy vamp clearly trying too hard to imitate Bill Nighy, and laughable conspiracies so poorly constructed it is a wonder nobody could figure out what the bad guys were doing. All in the space of about forty-five minutes, so that the second forty-five minute stretch could be a number of generally poorly conceived action sequences of awkward choreography and flashy nothing. The villains are mowed down like battle droids and with about as much excitement.

Oh, but there’s a really big lycan to fight. Bigger automatically means better and more exciting, right? But the film is so short we never find out anything about these characters. Who is this big lycan guy? We don’t even learn his name. We learn the name of the chief villain, but not much else and nothing to really hate or root against. We’re just told he’s the Bad Guy and that really ought to be good enough for us plebs.

See, the thing that made the original Underworld (and to a large extent its sequel Underworld: Evolution) so interesting was that it took the time to settle us in this new world, to give us the dynamics of the power struggle, both internal and external, within the characters and between them. There is a reason the original’s runtime was over two hours. When you have your protagonist frozen in a test tube for a decade and some change, you essentially have another whole world to establish. Awakening desperately needed to take the time to develop this new situation and establish it in some substantive detail. Or any detail, really.

As it stands, its pretty much a mess. Now don’t mistake me. Amid this resounding cacophony of a train wreck there were some fine moments that rang true to the Underworld we know and love, brief glimpses back into a once-interesting franchise. But it would seem the franchise is finally dead in the water. The sequels-of-diminishing-returns syndrome has finally set in and we have reached critical mass with a film that is barely worthy of being called a SyFy original TV movie. All this is ironic since it seems the intent of the film was to re-start the series in a new locale, a fresh situation. The total cliff-hanger of an ending will likely never get a conclusion.

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