Recently, a handful of aging film series have been successfully revitalized. X-Men, The Fast & The Furious and Planet of the Apes all saw critical and financial success after less than stellar installments. Can the return of Kate Beckinsale propel Underworld: Awakening to a similar fate? Well, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was pretty bad.
2003’s Underworld may have taken more than a few cues from The Matrix, but it was still a fun film with an interesting back story, sleek visuals, Kate Beckinsale and some terrific supporting performances from Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen. Awakening is the antithesis of that, except now it steals from the recent, and pretty terrible, Resident Evil films as well, and not in a good way. It’s chock full of tensionless, uninteresting and badly shot action. Derivative hodgepodge is perhaps the kindest thing to be said of it.
The lack of solid supporting performances is glaring. The series usual breath of character actors is noticeably absent. Charles Dance puts in a sub-par Nighy impersonation and Stephen Rea completely phones it in as the villain. You’re never given any reason to care about any of the one-dimensional cardboard cutouts parading around as ‘characters’, delivering bad dialogue in a stilted fashion. Theo James plays Dance’s son, David. His name isn’t even revealed until halfway through. Not to remain mysterious, no, they just don’t bother to introduce him, or most any of the characters in fact. That’s just scratching the surface of the script’s problems. To name a few: shallow characters, enough deus ex machinas to start a religion, poorly executed attempts to take on heavy themes such as ethnic cleansing, and pathetic excuses to string together some action scenes. That being said, the “twist” is actually really good, on a script level at least, and deserves a much better film around it. Along with Kate Beckinsale’s stunning beauty, wrapped in skin-tight, shiny PVC, it’s the film’s only redeeming factor. And it falls well short of redemption.
Måns Mårlind & Björn Stein show absolutely no signs that they are even half way competent directors. There’s no eye for framing and they can’t muster a single competent performance from any member of the cast.
The special effects are terrible, the computer generated lycans look out of place, often not even casting shadows. Practical effects have also taken a considerable downgrade, with costumes and lycan make-up looking noticeably worse than previous Underworld films. Same thing with the gore that was added to the second installment, it just looks bad. Add dreadful green-screen to the mix and you have one wet shit sandwich served to you.
The scope is microcosmic as the entire film takes place in maybe four locations, all of them small and enclosed. Not quite a war for the survival of a species, as the ads claim. The film is simply stupid and it treats the audience that way.
There are just so many questions: Why are those security cameras on dollies? Why does Selene suddenly have the ability to revive people by literally touching their hearts? Why doesn’t the cop load up on silver bullets in the armory? How is seeing through another person’s eyes through synced brainwaves when in close proximity in any way practically useful? How did David know where to show up, so he could have his big action moment? Why does everyone drive early nineties Benzes and Volvos in the near future? Why is any of this actually happening? Why does the main physical villain look like Coldplay’s Chris Martin? These are the things that will gnaw at you for fifteen minutes until you’ve completely forgotten everything that happened during the previous 88 minutes.
Final Verdict: A very early contender for worst mainstream film of the year. There’s really nothing that justifies its existence and no fun or entertainment to be had from watching it. You can’t even laugh at it. A forgettable mess of a film. Not even recommended to fans of the series. Avoid at all costs.
Half a star for Kate in PVC and half a star for a theoretically clever twist.
- Daily Trailer: Plenty of Style in Underworld Awakening (filmophilia.com)
- ‘Underworld: Awakening’ Tops Box Office (justjared.buzznet.com)