Underworld: Awakening (2012)

Underworld: Awakening is possibly the worst instalment of the Underworld franchise, which says something considering Rise of the Lycans was such an incompetent mess. Lazy, confused, stupid, incomprehensible, laughably bad and – worst of all – boring.

Every three years since 2003 the cinema has been assaulted by an Underworld film. The first one was reasonable fun, the second a little disappointing and the third an absolute lazy travesty. Many thought this franchise was dead… but for some bonkers reason a multitude of insane production companies scraped together $70 million dollars, pulled out the defibrillator and electrocuted this bastard back to life.

Whereas 2009’s Rise of the Lycans took us into the past, Awakening propels us into the future, where the Human race has discovered the existence of vampires and lycans and – naturally – decided they should all be brutally exterminated. Bloody humans, huh?

This new world is explained in a rushed start-sequence which firstly gives us a “brief history of the Underworld films” and then shows us the dark and violent future. Tragically this alternate future / reality / whatever is never fully explained, and instead of delving into something so crass as politics and debate, it merely shows us an army of Metro Police swarming a dark, dystopian cityscape, burning, bombing, shooting and pillaging (what, no raping?) any “non-human” scum they find.

I’ve already written too much about Underworld: Awakening and I’ve not even explained the plot. Perhaps it’s because this film had so much potential and squandered it on every level, from awful dialogue (awfully delivered) to the crappy CGI and abysmal make-up effects. And the plot? Jesus Christ…

Vampire assassin Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is captured by the government and cryogenically frozen by a company called Antigen (watch out Umbrella and Ingen, another evil corporation’s in town!), who attempt to use her DNA to find a cure to the vampire / werewolf plague.

Naturally she escapes and goes on a mission to… well… kind of find her missing boyfriend. It’s not greatly clear. Is Scott Speedman dead (like his career)? Or is he alive? Who cares? So Selene ambles around and luckily runs into her escapee daughter (wait! That’s a spoiler! But only if you’re a complete fucking moron – the moment you see her it’s bleedingly obvious she’s Selene’s offspring).

After this shock twist we’re given one long action sequence where Selene and daughter (who’s called Eve! Hahahaha!) escape the lycans and then attack the lycans. The human element disappears almost entirely and it just becomes a CGI brawl between leapy vamps and juggernaut wolf beasts.

Unfortunately the action is just messy instead of thrilling and the thread of plotline snaps entirely when you begin to question it. It’s woeful stuff.

The supporting cast do a reasonable job with a bad script, and Stephen Rea and Charles Dance fair better than most, reeling off expected clichés but still retaining an ounce of dignity (quite a skill on this occasion).

Kate Beckinsale is typically expressionless, adding this to a list of one-tone caricatures from Van Helsing to White Out. In Underworld: Awakening she seems like a shoddy copy of Milla Jovovich’s Alice from the Resident Evil franchise, standing on top of buildings in skin-tight clothes, looking at ruined cityscapes and delivering po-faced, sickeningly trite narration to a bored audience. She even does the patented Jovovich slo-mo dive across the floor, firing two pistols as she goes. It’s so awful it’s laughable in places.

And here’s the real kicker – Selene is actually less likeable than clone-freak Alice! Why? Because she’s a massive bitch. In Underworld: Awakening we’re faced with the prospect that mankind is one giant bastard-hole, intent on wiping out two entire species simply because… wait a second… because they’re evil underworld creatures that’ve spent centuries secretly killing and eating humans. Anyway – casting morals aside for a moment – the basic crux is that Selene murders humans. For fun. The moment I stopped caring and literally hated Selene is the moment she threw Wes Bentley out of a window, literally because she wanted to deliver an ice-cool quip about “letting him go”. Aaaaaaah! Fifteen floors. Aaaaaah! Parked car. Blam. Splat. He’s dead. What a bitch.

Some people, however, will be going to see Underworld: Awakening specifically because Kate Beckinsale is in it. Selene recently landed at Number 4 in Empire Magazine’s online poll of the sexiest female movie characters (only beaten by Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, Jessica Rabbit and Lara Croft) so it’s clear some audience members don’t particularly care that she’s a monotone plank of PVC. There is a moment of Selene nakedness in Underworld: Awakening, but keep your pants on boys, as it’s so heavily airbrushed she ends up looking like a plastic mannequin. Not sexy.

The film’s many failures could be due to the four credited screenwriters – too many cooks, anyone? – as well as any number of other influences from the seven producers / exec producers all investing in this travesty. Perhaps it’s the fault of director duo Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, the men responsible for making Shelter a laughable failure, but the multiple investors and writers are probably what truly nailed this coffin lid shut.

My main gripe is how Underworld: Awakening could’ve actually been excellent – it had a LOT of potential to reboot the franchise in a dystopian future, where a three-way tussle between lycan, vampire and human threatens to tear the world apart. Instead it’s just a muddled, boring mess and almost unwatchable in places.

Overall Underworld: Awakening smacks of missed potential. Instead of a sympathetic protagonist we’re handed a human-hating, self-serving, psychotic vampire bitch who murders humans with impunity. In any other film she’d be the villain, but somehow she’s our hero in Underworld: Awakening. You have nothing and no one to root for here, and it’s an unfortunate mess because of it.

Visually interesting, occasionally well acted and enjoyably bloody, apart from this Underworld: Awakening otherwise fails to make the necessary impact to reboot a flagging franchise. I’m sure we’ll see another one in 2015, but sadly they’ll have to do a LOT better if they want to keep Selene on the big screen.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

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