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Underworld: Awakening


Kate plus bait.

Rod Lott May 9th, 2012

After sitting out the 2009 prequel, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Kate Beckinsale and her skintight, black-leather outfit return for Underworld: Awakening, the fourth and likely not-final entry in the mindless but massively popular vampires-vs.-werewolves franchise. Also back? That omnipresent blue tint. Not so lucky? Scott Speedman.

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This chapter finds a virus loosed on the public that turns them into vampires and lycans upon infection. With no cure in sight, martial law has been declared, with a "mass cleansing" immediately following.

Amid this chaos, vampire super heroine Selene (Beckinsale, Contraband, Whiteout) is captured, only to awaken in and escape from a high-security research compound 12 years later. Overseen by Dr. Lane (Stephen Rea, Blackthorn), its project is creating vampire/lycan hybrids, such as Eve (India Eisley, TV's The Secret Life of the American Teenager), the young girl who frees Selene from Lane's cryogenic tube.

Good thing she does, because Selene is in high demand:
• Eve wants her mommy — yes, it's Selene.
• Fellow vamp David (Theo James, TV's Bedlam) would like her to protect his underground-dwelling coven.
• A police detective (Michael Ealy, Think Like a Man) sure could use her help infiltrating Lane's lab.
• Most pressingly, new-to-Underworld's-world Swedish directorial team of Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein needs to fulfill studio-dictated obligations to showcase Beckinsale's beckoning, beyond-compare bottom as much as possible.

In the department of action, there's certainly no shortage. (And I don't mean of the lycan-on-lycan kind; consult the Blu-ray’s three-minute blooper reel for an accidental bit of that.) So swiftly paced is this adventure that it lacks the exposition drag of its big brothers. The best set piece arrives early, in which Selene and company flee in a purloined van pursued down busy city streets by a pack of lycans galloping on all fours; it's a fun take on a tired scene.

Second best is the final showdown — usually the Achilles' heel of such genre exercises — set in a parking garage, with a shout-out to another scenario that should not work in this day and age: the ol' Alien trick of shuffling through the air ducts.

By this round, the special effects are not nearly as smooth, with the lycans occasionally resembling cartoon cutouts. Even Selene, running in the background in one early shot, looks lifted from a video game. That's to be expected when a film shot in 3-D is flattened for home presentation, but for me — at least in this case — seeing those seams heightens the fun by recalling the monster mashes of cinema's toddler stage, such as 1948's classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

Even franchise newbies can dive right in with Awakening; a prologue serving as a greatest-hits reel fills viewers in on all they need to know. For more, click to the special features menu for "Cracking the Underworld." It's a fine inclusion in theory: a movie-length, multimedia trivia track that incorporates picture-in-picture clips of the preceding trilogy, but is more obtuse and intrusive than it's worth.

I've mildly enjoyed all the Underworld films, even if I almost instantly forget them. I don't anticipate having the same problem with Awakening, as Red Bull-infused it is by comparison. I'd call it the most enjoyable of the series since the beginning, but I barely recall any of that 2003 start. So I'll have to call it the most enjoyable of the series, period. —Rod Lott

Hey! Read This:
• Bedlam: Season One DVD review 
Blackthorn film review 
Whiteout DVD review


 
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