It is rare for a movie franchise to make it to a fourth film and be good. The Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises had it easy, hell, Star Wars technically started on its fourth installment and Harry Potter had its beloved stories directly handed to them. The Die Hard series had to work for it but managed to keep its head above water, while the Alien series fell off a cliff when “Alien: Resurrection” hit the screen. Underworld: Awakening is, unfortunately, following in the footsteps of the Alien franchise.
There is brief “remind me of the previous three films” montage at the beginning for those of you who have forgotten the story, and then Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is back in her familiar gargoyle perch surveying the dark city around her. Unlike “Underworld: Evolution,” which picked up right where the original left off, Underworld: Awakening jumps forward a bit to a time when human beings are now hunting both vampires and lycans. These purges are wiping out both species with ruthless effectiveness and extinction may be close at hand. Selene and her hybrid (both vampire and lycan) boyfriend Michael are both wrapped up in the war and then comes the big flash forward.
Selene wakes up 12 years later from a block of ice after being thawed out in a maximum security laboratory. It seems she has been studied, poked, prodded, and subjected most likely to everything in between by its chief scientist Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea) who says he is looking for a cure for both vampire and lycan afflictions. A pre-teen girl known as Subject 2 (India Eisley) is responsible for Selene’s release and becomes the catalyst for the chase and fight sequences between vampires, lycans, and humans.
Just as the story in “Alien: Resurrection” was only scarcely attached to its previous episodes, Underworld: Awakening is also much more detached from the original than its predecessors. The vampires and lycans we are familiar with are gone, except for Selene, so now we watch her latch on to a new ad hoc crew including the vampire David (Theo James) and police Detective Sebastian (Michael Ealy). Not everything has changed though — Selene conveniently finds her old black leather fetish outfit to the enjoyment of this film’s majority male audience.
The movie is also the first installment in 3D whose effects are needless and actually hurt the film. The gothic atmosphere is already dark, grungy and rainy; the 3D makes it that much darker which exceeds the fine line of “too dark.” Seeing it in IMAX, however, is worth the extra bucks because of way it delivers bass. Lycans must come with their own attached sub-woofers with a tremendous low end because every time one is on screen the bass goes into overdrive causing small tremors that could, I suspect, be recorded on the Richter-scale. (It’s a small consolation, I know, but it almost makes up for the weak 3D).
The Underworld films were never particularly strong, but the first and third films (“Underworld” and “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,” respectively) were enjoyable. Underworld: Awakening joins its cousin “Underworld: Evolution” in the reduced discount and throw away bin. The story is frail, the screenplay is sloppy, and the characters are altogether forgettable.