Underworld: Awakening
Released 2012
Lakeshore Entertainment, Screen Gems
Directed by: Mårlind & Stein Running Time: 88min 2.35:1 Widescreen R
Cast : Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy, Theo James, India Eisley, Sandrine Holt, Charles Dance, Kris Holden-Ried
Notice the bullet hole in Selene’s forhead. You can’t tell from the still, but she’s ejecting the bullet and healing it while feeding on the guy who just shot her.
Taking something away just to give it right back three seconds later makes the whole thing feel arbitrary and pointless. God forbid Selene have to steal some jeans and a tee shirt from a store and go more than a minute without her trademark latex outfit.
See the guy in the white trenchcoat way off in the distance? Apparently Selene can hear his phone conversation from way over here.
Don’t ask. You don’t want to know.
Why does Selene need a human sidekick? And why does she even bother letting him live when she’s killed everything in her path without hesitation up to this point?
Let me rephrase that: Why does a creature who can survive an elevator being dropped on her head need a human sidekick who hurts himself jumping to safety?

Review by Jay Wilson

Underworld: Awakening caters to the absolute most juvenile compulsions of storytelling with no regard for narrative discipline or even common sense, and yes, I’m well aware of the low standards in this genre (which is not to be confused with no standards.) At heart, a stylish action thriller requires one thing and only one thing, conflict, which this movie dedicates every frame of its running time undermining.

Remember as a kid, playing toy guns with a friend who would forever invent new reasons why pretend bullets never hit him? You missed, he was wearing a bullet proof vest, he put up an invisible force field, or he’s really Superman. And even at the age of seven you realized playing with this child was pointless because there were no wins, no losses, no meaningful developments, no intrigue, no fun, and no reason to keep playing. Just a parade of excuses. That’s Underworld 4 in a nutshell.

This movie fails to realize that a character is defined and made interesting not only by their abilities but also their lack of abilities. Some might even go so far as to say that a character’s limitations are more important because first it allows conflict without which there can be no action, second it gives a character room to grow which doesn’t hurt, and third it gives other characters a reason to exist. But in Awakening, instead of giving Selene a few vampiric powers and forcing her to creatively use them which would in turn show her as cunning and competent in addition to being powerful, the movie just invents a new power on the fly for every snag she comes across. The plot needs Selene to meet up with another character, so it gives her telepathy. Selene needs information, so now she can hear private conversations fifty feet away and divine where a guy lives just by glancing at him. And at the height of absurdity, she brings a useless vampire ally back to life by cutting open his stomach, reaching inside, and squeezing his heart. When the movie just whips out a deus ex machina to dismiss every possible problem, what’s the point of having allies? Hell, what’s the point even having Selene around when the real star of Awakening is the God out of the Machine?

And the truly sad part is more than anything the movie wants to make Selene awesome by showering her with new abilities, but the resulting power level of Selene is so out of control that it manages to undermine her status as a supreme badass. Consider that the film needs her to be in three hundred places at once, so it gives her the power to swoop down from anywhere at any time and appear behind people at will, implying that she’s just that frickin’ fast. And the movie crams this point down our throats in every single scene to the point it feels like it’s boasting. But then a giant super lycan shows up and suddenly Selene’s superhuman swiftness is nowhere to be found while she gets smacked around until she’s a punch drunk mess barely able to stumble down a corridor. Why did this ultra fast vampire choose to get the crap beaten out of her when she could have just appeared behind the big bad wolf and cut its head off? Making matters worse, later on we see the super lycan cut through solid steel cables with his claws which means he could have cut Selene to ribbons and killed her any of the dozen times he knocked her across the room. Both characters clearly have the power to insta-kill the other, so what does it say about Selene and this super charged lycan that they break out their meanest tricks only on de facto cattle and inanimate objects? This is akin to making a movie about a state of the art fighter jet that obliterates all dummy targets during its practice run, but at the climactic battle when aliens invade they decide to keep it in the hangar for no reason. It’s stupid, plain and simple. By giving Selene God mode and having her not use it at the most obvious and opportune time, they’ve made her look like a complete nincompoop.

Inconsistent power levels that approach self-parody aside, the other major problem with Awakening is that the story has nowhere worthwhile to go with no one worthwhile to go there with. The first film revolved around Selene’s love interest, Michael, who became a werewolf/vampire hybrid and saw the downfall of Viktor, the powerful vampire elder; it also showed the fall of Lucien, the powerful lycan leader. Underworld 2 pitted Selene and Michael against Marcus, the original vampire, and William, the original werewolf—even more powerful than their offspring. This proved a nice (albeit rushed) escalation to the first Underworld’s conflict, and considering both Marcus and William were discussed in the original, it made a natural (if flawed) continuation.

Compared to all the insane powers Selene showcases throughout the movie, a really big lycan who can heal fast just doesn’t seem to pose any kind of legitimate threat.
Michael Corvin’s transformation into the vampire/werewolf hybrid in Underworld 1 was easily the most underwhelming aspect of that movie ... so who exactly thought this was a good idea?
You know what? I actually want the vampires to die out now. I feel they deserve to die out, and I hate the idea that they’re the protagonists. In all these movies, they just sit around and twiddle their thumbs while the werewolves actually go out and get shit done. Screw the vampires ...

This leaves Underworld 4 with no major villains left, thus nothing to drive the conflict, thus no story. So, Awakening starts off with a false premise that now Selene and her kind are up against humans in a post apocalyptic warzone which the movie quickly jettisons after putting Selene into a twelve year cryogenic coma, essentially hitting the reset button on the first fifteen minutes of the movie. In theory, this gives her a new world populated with new allies and new villains to explore; however, in reality, the film regurgitates everything that came in past films starting with Selene’s old outfit which she conveniently finds just seconds after waking up. Just like in Underworld 1, we meet an atrophying vampire coven telling itself the lycan race is on its deathbed; and just like in Underworld 1, the lycans are stronger than they seem, lying low and performing secret genetic experiments on innocent people to give themselves an edge in their immortal war. The lycans even produce another hybrid (a la Underworld 1) once again using Selene as a catalyst. And after the cleansing shown at the beginning, both vampires and werewolves are considered extinct, so now it’s back to the secret war of immortals ... just like Underworld 1. For a “new world,” not a whole hell of a lot has changed.

After catching the first trailer which implied Selene would spend the entire movie on the run from humans who still dominated the population, I thought, “after battling werewolves, vampire elders, and the original immortals, that’s gonna suck.” Who would have guessed that after seeing what Awakening actually delivered—a stale retread of the first film with forgettable lycan adversaries—I would end up wishing Selene did face boring humans whose only advantage was numbers. At least that would have been something new and different.