film review: Underworld: Awakening (2012)

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Underworld Awakening poster, Kate BeckinsaleKate Beckinsale is back in her PVC catsuit, corset and leather jacket for the fourth installment of the Underworld series, Underworld: Awakening.

Actually, I didn’t know she had gone, I checked out of this franchise after the first film. Not that I’d hated it or anything. As far as I recall. I think it was just that I saw it around the same time as that disaster of a film, Van Helsing, and so I ended up staying away from vampire films for a while.

All I remember of the first Underworld was that Kate Beckinsale looked damn fine in the outfit and I wished I looked that good in skin-tight pants. So, as far as I can tell, little has changed in the intervening 9 years. She’s pushing 40 and still looking well. But that’s not being fair to the film at all, it has a lot more to offer than Beckinsale… There’s Michael Ealy and Theo James for the ladies as well. Ah no, I jest, there is more than that, I swear.

This is the first of the series to be directed by Swedish duo, Måns Magnus Mårlind (what a name!) and Björn Stein. The only other English language film the pair have directed was Shelter, starring Julianne Moore. I haven’t seen it, but with a whopping 0% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m not exactly planning on picking it up.

With Shelter’s score in mind, I couldn’t help but wonder why Underworld: Awakening wasn’t screened for critics here. As we all know, this is rarely a good sign. Hence, I approached it with trepidation – and a 2 minute recap of the two films I’d missed from my cinema going partner. That trepidation was tempered by the fact that it’s an 18 cert film in Ireland and the UK. The Underworld franchise is hardly known for sex and nudity, so an 18 cert was bound to mean violence.

As it happened, I didn’t really need the recap. I remembered more of the first film than I thought and in any case there’s a short revisiting of the first three films at the start. With 3 years between films each time, I guess they’re used to having to bring the audience back up to speed quickly. The main thing you need to know is that in the last film, normal humans discovered the existence of the Lycans and Vampires. They were not happy about it.

So sets the stage for a “cleansing” of epic proportions.

I actually really enjoyed Underworld: Awakening. There’s always a lot to be said for having no expectations going into a film. I didn’t even know this film was out this week, that’s how in the dark I was. I wouldn’t go around saying it had the most amazing plot or performances… But, having already seen 4 out of the other 5 films out this week, I can say it’s probably the most entertaining of the week. Mind you, that’s still not saying much. I’ve only done the reviews of J. Edgar and Haywire so far, but you can take it from me that it’s a pretty poor week, Underworld 4 aside.

What’s most enjoyable about Underworld: Awakening is the action. With an 18 cert there’s no holding back. Selene kicks ass, and gets her ass kicked, from here to next Sunday with barely any let up. What let up there is is used to explain a perfectly serviceable plot. A rarity in a film like this these days. Recently action films seem to be struggling terribly hard with plots; unnecessary convolution is the order of the day. I can only assume they’re over-compensating out of a fear of being criticised for being too action oriented. I don’t know why they bother. People go to action films to see action. Right?

Anyway, with all the action on offer here, the target demographic should be satisfied. It’s worth mention as well that the 3D is pretty good. Ok, there are large parts of the film where you don’t need to wear your glasses, but it’s worth it for the parts where you do. Plus, it’s shot bright enough that you don’t have to worry about the type of murkiness that plagued The Darkest Hour. Of course… that’s not all that plagued The Darkest Hour, but that’s for a different review. You do still see that strange green hue you get with Real-D 3D glasses, but it actually suits the comic book stylings of the film so… it all works out really.

Some other reviews I’ve seen have criticised it as being a step away from the other 2 mythology-heavy sequels. Having never seen them, I have no idea if that’s true. Considering all 3 of the other Underworld films having come in for some fairly scathing reviews, I’m surprised they’ve decided to pick apart any changes.

As far as I’m concerned, if you’re looking for a glossy, 88 minute distraction with some good looking people being beaten every which way but loose… you could do much, much worse than Underworld: Awakening. This film is a bruised and bloodied hoot ‘n a half.


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