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'Underworld: Awakening' offers too much gore, not enough substance

Screen Gems

By Sean Czarnecki, Daily Arts Writer
Published January 22, 2012

Unless audience members are unfamiliar with the “Underworld” series’s concept — that is, blood, gore, black leather and (who could forget?) Kate Beckinsale — they know what they’re getting themselves into. And honestly, they’re getting exactly what they paid for.

In the latest outing, titled “Underworld: Awakening,” the story is once again centered on its vampire heroine, Selene (Beckinsale, “Click”): an icy but gorgeous ex-Death Dealer (the occupation is fairly self-explanatory). Following a series of purges that have broken the aristocracy of their species, vampires are scattered into hiding, some surviving, others looking to return to their former glory.

Plot spoiler (not really): After a 12 year cryogenic hibernation, Selene wakes up; Selene wants answers; Selene uncovers a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Where on Earth do the writers come up with these ideas? They must be geniuses.

And that pretty much sums up the world of “Awakening.” Aside from the series’s staple gothic atmosphere, cyberpunk costume design and melodramatic acting, there isn’t too much to say about its intricacies. Its mythology used to be one of its greatest appeals, but the world of “Awakening” is all moody music and lighting, not politics or intrigue.

One might like to know how vampires came to be targeted by the government. After all, they’d remained hidden for many years. Also, how did they become so vulnerable and weak when they’re capable of jumping off buildings as easily as Shaq stepping off a booster seat? Sure, humans have ultraviolet bullets, and people wearing full-body leather on casual Fridays do tend to stick out, but it doesn’t take a vampire rocket scientist to brainstorm a few solutions to these problems.

The story really is inconsequential. In fact, it just gets in the way of the movie’s bloody action scenes. And damn they are bloody. Selene slices, shoots, ducks and dives through each scene like a pissed-off Tomb Raider on a rainy Monday. She has style, she has panache, she has what rapper Tyler, the Creator would call “SWAG.” But when Selene isn’t taking on hordes of bad guys, boredom ensues. Instead of asking its viewers to stake an emotional investment or thrilling them with twists and turns, the story is mostly just used to cycle through each confrontation.

The characters lack any emotion whatsoever. Wes Bentley (that “everything is beautiful” teenage drug dealer from “American Beauty”) has a brief stint as some sort of scientist, but is promptly killed off. And that’s basically the cycle of character construction in “Awakening.” They move the plot forward, they tell Selene what she needs to know, and the audience could care less.

“Awakening” promises blood and pays the audience back by the gallons. There are enough whoa moments packed into 88 minutes to fill a Keanu Reeves script. Beckinsale is the same stoic but sensual heroine who fans of the original film loved. It’s entertaining in the bloodiest, campiest way possible, and it makes the audience want to see the next entry. But the biggest problem with “Awakening” is its inability to provide a satisfying ending.

Sure, there’s blood and gore, and that’s all fine. But the story’s climax sneaks up on the audience (prematurely would be the word, but that’s too easy of an innuendo, isn’t it?) and then the film ends abruptly. It would be like “Star Wars: A New Hope” without the epic explosion to cap off the Death Star battle. The plot coasts without emotional buildup or suspense, taking its audiences to an ending that leaves them thinking, “Was that it?”


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