Although Underworld: Awakening is shot in 3D, it's not just that which gives it a much grittier look than its predecessors. It's DP Scott Kevan (no stranger to horror, the lenser's got Cabin Fever, Tamara, Borderland, the Deathrace remake, and last year's The Darkest Hour on his resume) who does a nice job of showing how much the world has changed since Death Dealer Selene (Kate Beckinsale) was once on top of it. Picking up where Underworld 2: Evolution left off — remember, Underworld 3: Rise of the Lycans, the one starring Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy, was a period piece prequel — we fang-fans find Selene having just awoken from a state of suspended animation and at a distinct disadvantage.
The bodacious brunet vamp is in a conglomerate laboratory being experimented upon and mined by nefarious mad scientist Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea), while lycan Michael (Scott Speedman) is hidden away, and the product of their union, now 10 year old hybrid Eve (India Eisley), is being studied as the completely unique anomaly she is. At first, Selene is unaware she's even a mother (sounds like a supernatural episode of TLC's "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant!"), but once she finds out, she is on a mission to save Michael and Eve from the evil clutches of the humans. Aided by mere mortal Detective Sebastian (Michael Ealy) and an uppity young vampire named David (Theo James), Selene dons the leather corset, cocks her guns, and gets down to deadly biz.
While the look of this Underworld movie is quite a bit different, so is the directing style (Swedish duo Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, who did the 2011 thriller Shelter, starring Julianne Moore and Jonathan Rhys Meyers). It's less-gloomy and more dynamic, actually bringing to mind one of the Resident Evil movies — especially when the genetically "super-Lycans" appear, bringing to mind the "nemesis" in RE: Apocalypse. One thing which has not been altered is the dead-seriousness of the Underworld world. While there may be a few scenery chews from the more established actors obviously only here to collect paychecks (Rea, and Charles Dance), there isn't any moustache-twirling, and certainly no one-liners. Unlike many horror franchises which turn more and more to humor as storylines sag, Underworld isn't one of them.
There are some terrific action scenes in the film (a reverse heart-attack and a heart-stopping threat at a high-rise window spring to mind) and while they are in 3D, the medium is not overly aggressive and in fact seems extraneous at times. I guess the visual aid is just the flavor of the month right now, and all the studios are doing it. It's fine. It doesn't really add or detract from the story.
While it's great to see Beckinsale back in action, and while the Underworld series still has life in it, I'd have to say: go see this one only if you're a big fan. Otherwise, DVD will do.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson