Saturday, January 21, 2012

First Impression: Underworld: Awakening

This is the fourth episode of the Underworld series, directed by Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, and I went to see this at the cinema last night.

So, of course, previously we had Underworld, which introduced us to the hidden war between vampires and lycans and the warrior (or, in Underworld parlance, deathdealer) Selene (Kate Beckinsale, Van Helsing) and at the end of that film we get the first Lycan/vampire hybrid in the form of Selene’s lover Michael. The second film Underworld Evolution sees a further hybrid in the form of ancient vampire Marcus and Selene manages to get herself some handy dandy immunity to sunlight. This film gives us a potted history of these two films at the beginning, ignoring the third film, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, as it was a prequel to the first two films and did not feature Selene.

The film then introduces the idea that humanity discover the existence of vampires and lycans and wage war on the two… here the film gets confused in its language, at times calling them separate species and at other times referring to the infected. They are, of course, infected – the two strands being different mutations of a virus that began (in the distant past) with Alexander Corvinus and diverged when his two infected sons were bitten by a bat and a wolf respectively. Whatever the language might suggest, however, we have the fact that humanity go on a full out killing spree. Selene and Michael are trying to escape the city but things go wrong…

icy but modest
Twelve years later (as we soon discover) and an alarm goes off in a facility, allegedly a research facility dedicated to finding a cure to the two infections. Subject 2 has escaped from a cell and releases subject 1 from Cryo-stasis before heading out of the building to freedom. Subject 1 is, of course, Selene. The old Underworld modesty rears its head here as a naked Selene falls out of the Cryo-stasis pod and dry ice conspires to keep any nudity well hidden. For some reason the facility decided to keep her gear stored in the same room, so she is quickly dressed and then is also escaping. Positively, during her flight from the facility sequence, she does actually bite someone (there is way too little vampire bite moments in the series).

India Eisley as Eve
Actually she is allowed to escape, the order coming from head scientist Dr Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea, Interview with the Vampire) as she will lead them to number 1 – Lane goes on to conspire to keep the escapes a secret from the police. When Selene goes and finds the scientist who took the order (as she heard it) she is told that her and the other subject’s minds are somehow linked – in ways the scientists don’t understand – hence blasts of visions she was having, she is literally seeing through the other’s eyes. When she finds subject 2 it is a young girl, credited as Eve (India Eisley), and not Michael as she had assumed. She also meets David (Theo James) a member of a hidden vampire coven.

a Lycan
The coven is run by David’s father, Thomas (Charles Dance, who is doing his best Bill Nighy impression), and he is less than impressed. Selene is a traitor who loved an abomination and killed two of the elders (not forgetting that one of those elders was, by that logic, an abomination also) and, as he realises what Eve is, he believes she will bring humanity to the coven’s door. And yes, they are attacked… however it isn’t humans but lycans including a super-giant-lycan. It isn’t much of a spoiler to reveal that the facility is really run by lycans, using the hybrid to cure their weakness to silver. In doing so they have turned Lane’s son, Quint (Kris Holden-Ried, The Death of Alice Blue), into the self-healing, silver immune and giant super-lycan. They get Eve back and Selene is off to rescue her, with the help of human cop Sebastian (Michael Ealy).

So, first impressions… a good action film, take your brain out and watch the explosions and acrobatics… However, if you re-engage your brain the film begins to fade more and more. How did the lycans know about the coven’s location? We see the van Selene and David use to get there on an empty road, so presumably they weren’t followed. Perhaps the lycans always knew of the location – we’re not told. Indeed, why hadn’t the facility added tracking devices to its test subjects? You know, on the off-chance they escaped.

Michael Ealy as Sebastian
All the characters, bar Selene and (to a lesser degree) Eve, are ciphers, walking plot devices. Sebastian hides evidence of Selene and berates his rooky partner (we do hear that his wife had been turned and self-immolated when the feds turned up at the door, during the purge). His motivation, thus, seems obvious but not so when he ignores a potential lycan kill. Much more could have been done with this, adding suspicions from his partner and a whole sub-plot. Indeed wouldn’t the force be suspicious of a man who harboured a vampire, albeit his wife? Even more pertinent is the question, why did the purge happen? According to the first film the vampires were living on synthetic blood, was the purge just in that city (an undisclosed mash up of an Eastern-European and US location)? Wouldn’t some countries have gone down the route imagined in True Blood?

action, pvc... but where is the story?
These are just the ones on the surface and I am sure more questions would occur if I put some effort into thinking about it. The key, of course, is not to think, it is to watch the action sequences and Kate Beckinsale and leave all else at the door. Unfortunately a lot of the intricate history and backstory, once a cornerstone of the Underworld franchise, has also been left at the door by the filmmakers.

I should say though, for all those who despair about Twilight, that this film does have a sparkly vampire in it… ok, it’s Kate walking through a cloud from a silver nitrate grenade but… she sparkles. As for the 3D, it didn’t give me the headache that sometimes comes with some films but I wasn’t particularly impressed with it generally, it seemed a bit pointless really. EDIT 19/5/12: Having re-watched the film on DVD I don't believe there is anything extra I need to say about the film. However, for completeness sake I'll now offer it a score of 5.5 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

No comments: