At this point, I feel I should ask a couple of pertinent questions, like who out there is actually demanding for more Underworld sequels and is there any way to get them to stop. Okay, I’ll grant you that I didn’t hate the last entry – unimaginative yet fun prequel Rise Of The Lycans – but that’s probably because it ditched all the tired leather jumpsuits and Matrix-style posing in favour of a gory, sword swinging romp that saw Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen take the lead as the vampire/werewolf war got into full swing.
However, in something of a soft reboot that somewhat clears the slate a little, Underworld: Awakening decided to change up the status quo, giving the universe a whole new set of rules to play with while bringing back Kate Beckinsale’s rubber-encased Selene for another bout of death dealing.
After centuries of war, humans have decided to stick their noses into the vampire/werewolf blood feud with spectacular results as all of humanity pooled their resources to eradicate this “new” threat virtually to extinction. In the midst of this “purge” (trademark pending Blumhouse), vampire ass-kicker supreme seeks to flee the city with her vamp/lycan hybrid boo, Michael, but they are attacked by troops who use their devastating weaponry to take the lovers down and before you can say “time jump”, Selene awakens upside down in a block of ice after a twelve year stint spent in enforced cryogenic sleep.
Freed by a mysterious benefactor, Selene awakens unsurprisingly fresh as a daisy (and coated in nudity covering CGI mist with her old clothes conveniently stored within reach) while battered with visions as she sees through her saviors eyes as they flee the lab they’ve been held in. Shooting and fighting her way out, the former death dealer runs into David, a member of a surviving vampire coven who is itching to make a difference for his species and the two discover that the being that’s been feeding Selene her visions is a child named Eve who just so happens to be her and Michael’s daughter and demonstrates she’s a chip off the old hybrid block by ripping apart the head of an attacking Lycan scavenger.
Taking refuge with David’s coven, his father Thomas takes umbrage at the presence of a highly sought after Hybrid and sure enough, a squad of Lycans launch an attack and take Eve. Alarming for a number of reasons, the main issue is that Lycans are supposed to be nearly extinct and another it that they’re being lead by a giant, super-sized werewolf who’s existence shouldn’t even be possible – what shifty goings on are happening with Dr. Jacob Lane – the man who had Selene frozen in the first place – and what untruths have been told following the events of the Purge?
After the simplistic fun of the pleasingly untaxing Rise Of The Lycans, Awakening goes back to the exact kind of stuff that wound me up about the franchise in the first place, namely a needlessly complex plot that turns the already muddy continuity into something resembling stagnant swamp water. Having Selene emerge from her decade long beauty nap via a block of ice could have been used to give the franchise a much needed fresh start, but instead of cutting ties to the past and letting Beckinsale’s typically catsuited hero strut her stuff unencumbered by insipid backstory, the movie simply can’t resist hamstringing the movie by basing the majority of the plot on her trying to locate Michael despite the fact that actor Scott Speedman is nowhere to be seen outside of a cheeky lookalike and some scattered stock footage. Why hinge your main character’s plot on finding a character who is obviously never going to return when it could have leaned further into turning Selene into a Sarah Conner style warrior mother right from the get-go. Instead we get the same old stuff with irritatingly illogical action sequences (Behold an atrocious car chase that looks like everything is moving at a mere thirty miles an hour and featuring Lycans leaping all over cars while not one motorist thinks to hit the brakes) and endless scenes shot like every goth themed music video you’ve ever seen (Evanescence even plays over the end credits, for crying out loud).
Director and franchise co-creator Len Wiseman, helmer of the first two Underworld movies, must of realised he was in mortal danger of becoming the next Paul W.S. Anderson because once again he is on story and producer duties leaving swedish directing duo Måns Mårland and Björn Stein to deliver the flashy but hollow proceedings, but even the story could use work as this new world order only just brings us new plot holes to puzzle over. Wouldn’t the world ending all wars in order to wipe out two races of people eating monsters be a good thing, I mean, Selene isn’t that likable and the franchise’s insistence that monsters are people too feels ridiculously hollow compared to work by Gullimero Del Toro or Clive Barker. Other brow-furrowing moments include the franchise once again shifting allegiance from vampires to put-upon Lycans and back again (the wolves have impressively got their shit together) – but surely the weirdest instance is why in the living hell would Charles Dance or Stephen Rea agree to be in this? Did the previous, overqualified appearances from Nighy, Sheen and Derek Jacobi convince them that Underworld was a happening franchise? Or better yet, why in christ’s name would Wes Bentley appear in an uncredited bit part only to get dropped out of a window? Do all these people owe money or something?
I have to admit, shitty franchises that stubbonly refuse to die kind of have my admiration if for no other reason than investing all this time and money into series that’s rarely risen above the end-of-game-boss style plotting of an early 90’s scrolling beat ’em up (a giant werewolf?) shows an biblical lack of self awareness. Beckinsale still has the frosty action goods, but its surely high time Underworld took a cue from its lead actress, packed up its blue filters, ineffectual firepower and its pointless (now one sided) romance and put itself on ice for a nice, long – and hopefully eternal – rest.