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It's been 9 years since the original Underworld movie and 6 years since the last time Kate Beckinsale played the role of Selene. Now it's January 2012 and the fourth installment of the franchise, Underworld: Awakening is finally at the theaters. Is it any good? Hell yeah it is!
This may come as a bit of a surprise considering that when a franchise gets to the fourth installment it tends to start getting really old. Perhaps the creators of Underworld knew that when they conceived the story of Awakening, for this story takes a completely different direction than any of the previous entries in the franchise. Just a quick reminder: the original Underworld was a mindless action movie about vampires and lycans (i.e. werewolves) who were trying to kill each other while the human race knew absolutely nothing of their existence. Its shitty sequel (Underworld: Evolution) and awesome prequel (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) built upon this premise. Awakening however starts with the human race discovering the existence of vampires and lycans, meaning that the story shifts from vampires and werewolves trying to kill each other to the human race attempting to exterminate them all.
So we get a pretty dark opening as we basically witness genocide. Humanity is hell bent on slaughtering every vampire and lycan, no questions asked. Our lead, Selene ends up in the middle of this conflict when she is taken captive and put in hibernation for 12 years. When she awakens and escapes she finds herself in a vastly changed world where she has basically become the hunted. That does not stop her from turning the tables on the humans that think they actually stand a chance against the most badass Death Dealer on the planet.
That's basically the story and yes, it's just as simple as the story of any Underworld flick to date. Likewise, despite its simplicity the story is engaging enough to keep the viewers interested until the end, and it is very well told. It's certainly a pleasure to see that J. Michael Straczynski (i.e., Mr. Babylon 5) has not lost his touch; getting him co-write the script was an ingenious move and we hope that if we ever see an Underworld 5 he will contribute once more.
Just like in the original Underworld, we get a wide array of varied characters. Kate Beckinsale still shines in the lead role of Selene and it's great to see her in action once more. Selene is joined by a young vampire called David who wants to fight for his species while his father Thomas, played by Charles Dance (i.e., Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones), is trying to hold him back thinking that their best shot at survival is laying low. She also finds unexpected help in the form of Detective Sebastian (played by Michael Ealy, i.e. Agent Vogel from FlashForward) who has his own personal reasons to dislike the genocide of the vampires and lycans. We also meet Dr. Jacob Lane (portrayed by the always excellent Stephen Rea), the man in charge of Antigen, the company that held Selene captive, and Quint, a giant lycan who seems to be nigh indestructible. Finally, we get a young 11-12 year old vampire girl who was also held captive by Antigen for a certain reason that we will not spoil here. In other words, we get a wide variety of interesting characters who the viewers can get invested in, just like in the original Underworld. Furthermore, most of them get FAR more screen time than the support cast did in Evolution. It's a shame that Charles Dance has such few scenes, but perhaps we'll see more of him if Underworld 5 ever becomes a reality.
Speaking of seeing more, we would have loved the see more of this movie. Quite frankly, it's far too short. Clocking in at 88 minutes it's a half hour shorter than the original Underworld. Damn shame... Granted, Rise of the Lycans was similarly short, but we would have liked to see more regardless.
The action is top notch and we get some pretty gruesome scenes (such as a little girl ripping out the throat of a lycan) which should satisfy any action-horror lovers out there. Still, quite possibly the most awesome scene is the one where Selene pretty much reenacts the opening cinematic of Baldur's Gate (you know, when Sarevok grabs a guy's neck with just one hand and... well, if you've played the game, you know the rest). Truly, Sarevok would be proud!
The visuals are fantastic and the music is also great. One thing we haven't mentioned yet is the 3D. This is probably the most difficult aspect of the movie to review since a lot of people have very different opinions of 3D in general. In Awakening the 3D is mostly used in the gimmicky way, i.e. there's shit flying at the screen etc., which is quite entertaining to watch. However, there's not a whole lot of scenes where the 3D was really necessary, so if you only catch this movie in 2D, don't worry about it: you won't miss much.
To summarize, Underworld: Awakening is just as much of a worthy entry into the franchise as Rise of the Lycans was. It's a fun, mindless action movie about a badass vampire chick raising hell and whooping ass. If you liked the original Underworld, you should find this movie quite entertaining as well. Although the original Underworld is still the best in the series by far.
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