Review: Underworld - Awakening (18) / Directed by: Mans Marlind, Bjorn Stein / Screenplay by: Len Wiseman, John Hlavin, J Michael Straczynski, Allison Burnett / Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Charles Dance, Kris Holden-Ried, India Eisley / Release date: Out Now
They’re back! The all-out battle for supremacy between the vampires and the werewolves (Lycans) is in full swing in this fourth entry into the increasingly-dreary Underworld franchise. Seriously, what’s the point in these movies now? Does anyone really care? Have they ever? There never seems to be much in the way of a buzz or even a hardcore fan-following for this stuff and yet, every two or three years, out rolls another one powered, presumably, by the decent box office returns the films generate without creating any real heat and certainly not displaying much originality or creative thought.
So here we go again and whilst there are one or two changes - Kate Beckinsale’s back in the leathers as kick-ass vampire Selena after sitting out the third movie - and director Len Wiseman (Kate’s hubby) is on screenplay duties this time (alongside, amongst others, J Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 and Oscar-nominated, BAFTA-winning screenplay for the superb Clint Eastwood movie The Changeling - which makes you wonder how he got involved with lowbrow guff like this) - but otherwise it’s pretty much business as usual.
Selena wakes up from a twelve-year cryogenic sleep to find that not only has humankind been quietly eradicating the two supernatural species and that the werewolves are fighting back, working on a method to give themselves immunity against silver bullets but also that she has her own super-powered vampire daughter who’s attracting a lot of attention herself. Cue the usual bombardment of slo-mo gun battles - Beckinsale blazing away with her dual pistols - iffy werewolf CGI with a hefty dollop of 18 rating-earning gore as heads are torn off, throats ripped out, stomachs routinely gouged.
This is all well and good; it’s loud and unsubtle and of course Kate B still looks foxy in her tight leathers (but not quite so sexy in one clumsy scene where she slides across the floor on her ass) but the Underworld films have always been - and still remain in this latest outing - so thunderingly dull. It’s odd because the idea of a centuries-long war between vamps and wolf men has always had such promise but the sub-Matrix realisation of the concept in this series has left it pretty much stone dead. The Underworld movies are so horribly po-faced and portentous (come on, someone gimme a smile; tell a joke!), visually dreary (the colour palette being predominantly grey with a bit of blood red thrown in here and there) and in Awakening we’re again treated to 3D so perfunctory it’s really barely noticeable. Part of the problem is that the series has fallen into the same trap which scuppered the second and third Blade movies; with little or no human interest save the odd cop or scientist, all we’re left with is two supernatural creatures which actually don’t exist beating each other up and without much immediate threat to humanity. The vampires and the wolves are so flat, unlikable and remote I really couldn’t care less who wins their interminable war as long as they stop making movies about it.
In truth I’ve never been much of a fan of this franchise. I bailed out after struggling through the second film (although there’s a boxset of all three sitting on my shelf somewhere - oh, who am I kidding, I’m a bloke, it’s filed away in the ‘U’ section) and Awakening isn’t likely to send me scurrying back to catch up with what I’ve missed. It’s not a bad film as such, dead-headed script aside. The action scenes are done with some flair, the last half-hour’s fairly frantic and energised and I was briefly diverted by what seemed to be the casting of Coldplay’s Chris Martin as a pumped-up werewolf (until I realised it was actually lookalike Kris Holden-Ried who had me similarly fooled in the Canadian fantasy drama TV series Lost Girl) and the final scene might as well have ended with a caption stating 'Underworld will return in…’ such is the way it achingly sets up the inevitable sequel.
Undemanding action fans and those who have taken to the series will probably find this entertaining enough but for me it’s not so much Underworld more ‘underwhelming’.
Expecting rating: 5 out of 10