Monday, March 12, 2012
The Return of Cranpire Movies: Underworld - Awakening
(If you don't think there are SPOILERS in this review, by all means read on and try to be surprised when there are.)
I don't actually know if Cranpire ever watched any of the Underworld movies. I know Professor Murder did, and that he liked the first one enough to insist that I at least watch the scene where a vampire with silver whips fights a werewolf (sorry, Lycan). The way he described it was more entertaining than the actual scene (for the record, that Korn song isn't actually playing during the movie but you work with what you can find), but I found the first Underworld film to be agreeably stupid.
The only really distinguishing factor between the Blade and Underworld series is in my opinion the fact that Kate Beckinsale is in skintight leather instead of Wesley Snipes in slightly less skintight leather. It's certainly what 99.9999% of Underworld fans talk about on the internet and why there are now more Underworld movies than Blade movies (and you thought it was because of the tax evasion...) despite the fact that Blade Trinity is arguably just a collection of the worst series of decisions ever committed to film.
Since the second one was coming out soon, I did what you would expect the Cap'n would do - waited for it to come out on DVD and then rent it from the used book store I worked at. Underworld Evolution was also stupid, but more bombastic and with less story. More importantly, it didn't have the "this is a very serious story we're telling, thank you" that made the first film so hilarious. Underworld: Evolution did have the benefit of having Bill Nighy come back (in flashbacks? I don't remember) plus returning Michael Sheen, and then on top of the Derek Jacobi (I, Claudius) as an ancestor of Michael's. The story gets more complicated, yadda yadda, super vampire bats or something.
I did not see Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, a prequel that brought back Sheen and Nighy and added Rhona Mitra (The Descent) when Kate Beckinsale decided that skintight leather was too much of a bother. I have no idea what it was about, although if I had to guess I'd say it centered around the feud between vampires and Lycans in the middle ages because they seem to be holding swords on the cover.
This brings us to Underworld: Awakening, which is the fourth film in the series (and is in 3-D!!!). Kate Beckinsale, who clearly had so much fun making Whiteout and Everybody's Fine that she decided it was time to be miserable in skintight leather again, returns as Selene. She and Michael are on the run (again), but this time because between Underworld: Evolution and Underworld: Awakening, the humans noticed that people in skintight leather outfits were running around cities, shooting at each other, and that when some of them died they exploded. One of the people who seems to be organizing this is Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea), who joins the inexplicably quality supporting cast for movies this silly.
Somebody brielfy plays Michael, but it sure didn't look like Scott Speedman and the character isn't listed in the credits or IMDB. In fact, he isn't mentioned at all anywhere except IN the film. He's killed and then Selene is frozen for twelve years until she's rescued by "Subject Two" (India Eisley), a twelve-year-old girl who has the same powers that Michael does. Hrm...
I know what you were thinking, but she's not a twelve-year-old female clone of Michael: she's their DAUGHTER!!!! Selene was almost as surprised as you were, because to her twelve years didn't pass. It was like she went to sleep underwater across from a guy who kinda looked like Scott Speedman but not really and then woke up the next day with a preteen vamp-can. In fact, Selene says something very much like that later in the film, in case we were too confused by the plot to remember that.
Unfortunately for Underworld: Awakening, its plot isn't nearly as convoluted as the first two films (and, what the hell, let's assume the third one too), so it's actually not that hard to keep up. See, Dr. Lane works for Antigen, a company trying to cure the "disease" of vampirism and lycanthropy (I guess separately, they don't address this until THE TWIST!), and the hybrid-daughter is the key to cracking the code. Since she escaped, they let Selene escape to track them, and send some Lycans after them. Selene, in the meantime, finds a hidden coven of vampires led by Thomas (Charles Dance), who is hiding to keep his people alive. His idiot son, David (Theo James), wants to fight the Lycans and they all get their asses kicked when a super-Lycan that's immune to silver shows up (in normal form he looks like Coldplay's Chris Martin).
Anyway they all go back to Antigen and Selene gets Detective Sebastian (Michael Ealy) to help her break in, just in time for THE TWIST! See, Jacob and the rest of the Antigen team are Lycans, and they used the whole "exposure to humans" angle as a way to get vampires on the run while they researched a way be immune to silver. That's it! That's the extent of this movie - the master plan of the Lycans is to be immune to silver and kill the rest of the vampires while still being closely monitored by humans. Well, that last part clearly isn't important because they'd be invincible, right?
But if that's the case then how did Selene kill the Coldplay Lycan by putting a silver grenade in his stomach? And her daughter just clawed Stephen Rea's face off, so that works too.
Then again, I don't watch an Underworld movie for the story. I watch it because the deadly serious tone coupled with the absurd action scenes and gaping plot holes are a potent combination, the end result being incredulous laughter. Underworld: Awakening is not a good movie, not by any standard. That's fine, because I wasn't expecting it to be a good movie. I was expecting something stupid and I got it, and I chuckled for most of the film. Adding children used to be the touch of death for television shows, and sure enough it's a sign of desperation in Awakening, designed to cover up the fact that Scott Speedman / Michael don't factor into the story much (oh, did I mention he isn't actually dead and that Selene unfreezes him so he can escape?). The daughter fills that role and is half-hardheartedly designed to give Selene some depth, but it largely fails.
Underworld: Awakening has some fun, if imbecilic, action sequences, although I can't imagine they would be necessary in the third dimension. The color palette is (unsurprisingly) dark blues, blacks, and greys. The dialogue is stilted and designed to get us to the next fight scene, where at least the gore is pretty good. To be fair, it's probably more watchable - if not as staggeringly dumb - than Blade Trinity, and it's definitely better than the fourth Resident Evil film.
I know, I know; when I'm comparing Underworld: Awakening to Resident Evil: Afterlife and Blade Trinity, most of you are politely nodding your head and slowly backing away towards the door. That's fine, but this is a Cranpire Movie, and compared to most of the Syfy Channel Originals he prefers, Underworld: Awakening is a minor masterpiece.