Review: Oh, There's Michael...'Underworld: Awakening' Answers Questions You Never Cared Enough To Ask

Reviews
by Jessica Kiang
January 20, 2012 8:58 AM
41 Comments
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“Where’s Michael?” shouts warrior vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) urgently in the trailer for “Underworld: Awakening,” the fourth film in the other vampire/werewolf franchise. “Who’s Michael?” muses a large portion of the audience, presumably a little less urgently, in reply. Because while the ‘Underworld’ films undoubtedly have their appeal -- you don’t goose your way beyond a trilogy without some kind of following making it financially enticing -- they really don’t inspire the kind of widespread fandom that might immediately make the average moviegoer clutch their heart in worry over the fate of Selene’s hybrid werevamp macguffin boyfriend.

For yes, that’s who Michael is, a character played in chapters 1 and 2 so forgettably by Scott Speedman, that it appears he forgot to come back at all for this installment. Instead he is played in his few scenes by Some Other Dude, who doesn’t really resemble Speedman that closely, but is only ever seen underwater or upside down or at the epicenter of an explosion, so it hardly matters. “Underworld: Awakening” which returns to the primary timeline after 2009’s prequel ‘Rise of the Lycans,’ is full of these cheap tricks and shortcuts, but you know what? Presumptuous trailer aside, it is a film that sets its sights low, knows its place and unpretentiously achieves pretty much all its modest ambitions. And it’s mercifully, gloriously short.

This is not to say it’s any good -- it’s really not -- but it doesn’t overpromise and therefore can’t underdeliver: there’s enough here to keep the small core of diehard fans interested in the evolving mythology, and enough moderate to gleeful violence and slo-mo shots of Kate Beckinsale slinking around in a flappy coat to keep the rest of us mildly engaged for 88 minutes.

The film starts out, as did previous outings if memory serves, with an almost apologetic expositionary voiceover from Selene: a kind of tacit admission that the filmmakers don’t actually expect very many people to have committed this hokum to memory. So in a couple of brisk minutes we’re brought up to speed on centuries of vampire vs lycan (werewolf) vs human history and the pertinent plot highlights of previous films, all the while resting our eyes on blue-tinted images of Selene standing on the edges of things and kicking ass. It all feels so familiar as to be almost restful, but maybe that is the calming omnipresent blue filter. Prologue over, we skip ahead 12 years to an uncomprehending Selene escaping from a cryogenic container in some sinister lab, with the help of an unseen fellow escapee, Subject 2, whom she assumes to be Michael. It’s around now that the film hits us with the first of its devastating casting surprises... Wes Bentley! No really, he’s in this! Despite, as of today, not showing up on the film’s IMDB page, there he is, large as life for exactly two scenes until [oh fine, if we must: SPOILER ALERT] a thing happens involving a high window. 

Anyway Selene stops only briefly to kit herself out with the first of two flappy coats, and is once again on the run from lycans and humans and desperate to track down...all together now...Michael. At this point she teams up with the absurdly model-like David (Theo James), a handsome vampire at loggerheads with his powerful father played, in the second bit of "huh, would you look at that?" casting, by Charles Dance. (Dance here continues the long illustrious line of respected British actors -- Bill Nighy, Derek Jacobi, Michael Sheen -- to have graced this franchise. Brits are just so vampirey, right? Maybe it’s the dentistry). But when Selene tracks down Subject 2 and discovers it’s in fact a young girl, not-terribly-difficult-to-answer questions abound: Who is she? What is she? And, ye Gods, where IS Michael?

Also along for the ride are good cop Sebastian, played by Michael Ealy, Stephen Rea as the duplicitous head scientist of a shady research corporation, and, in what has to be the casting coup of the century, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin as his son. Ok fine, it's actually an actor called Kris Holden-Reid but, man, is he a ringer for mild-mannered macrobiotic Martin, so his role as a bloodthirsty ragewolf villain here gave us a few laughs. 

New-to-the-franchise directors Marlind & Stein do a decent enough job within the narrow confines of what’s available to them: CGI is sparingly used, and the action is fluid and comprehensible, if a bit dark at times and very, very blue (seriously, Derek Jarman's "Blue" feels less blue than this). And that's a good thing, because there's not much else on offer; the characterization is ludicrously thin once again, and everything from the plot points to the production design seems to have been borrowed from somewhere else, often from a source that is itself a knock-off (such is the humility/cheapness of the undertaking, that it feels like it references "Equilibrium" rather than "The Matrix" for example). Overall, it all feels terribly Canadian-for-budget-reasons: the locations and sets are all pretending to be somewhere else (when they’re not entirely anonymous), so you never get a sense of any depth or texture or history in the imagery. It means that even as blood sluices from yet another headwound (is it just us who are unconvinced by the fad for blood spilling from slo-mo gunshot wounds like paint from a can, and prefer old-fashioned splatter?), there is a sterility and an artificiality to the 'Underworld' universe that stops it getting any proper purchase on our imaginations.

So yes, "Underworld:Awakening" is largely uninspired -- right down to the climax being set in that staple of the cheap action film: a car park -- and if it had been even a little more expensive to make, or if they traded on our goodwill for even a minute or two longer in its running time, it would have been unforgivable. But as it is, we've scarcely finished wondering about Wes Bentley’s career and the shininess of Beckinsale's PVC-clad thighs, when we get to watch a hulked-out Chris Martin and his gang take on the kid from "The Ring"and her defenders, and then it's all over. It manages not to overstay its never-very-effusive welcome, and for that we salute it, if halfheartedly. As the girl from Evanescence croons gothily over the end credits "…don't waste my time…" and while it kind of does, at least it doesn't waste that much of it.

In any case, this ‘Underworld’ will trundle along with or without critical approval, as have all its previous incarnations, and will no doubt earn enough back to make “Underworld 5: Dawn of the Rise of the Evolution of the Planet of the Hybrids” a reality, in the franchise-standard three years time. And at that point another handy voiceover prologue will again remind us of everything relevant that we’ve immediately forgotten about this one, so if you have to skip this one in favor of, I don't know, ironing, then don't worry that you'll be all at sea come 2015. For now, the current film is not the sort of thing to inspire a critic to risk many superlatives, but dammit, we're going to buck the trend: it many not be any good, but "Underworld: Awakening" is undoubtedly the shortest, bluest would-be blockbuster you'll see all year. [C]

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41 Comments

  • Robert | December 13, 2013 3:20 PMReply

    I think if they make another one they need to go back to the premise of the original one, Awakenings kind of Sucked because they relied to much on CG werewolves, and the one that hulled out was really silly. They need actors in the werewolf suites that were originally desinged by Patrick Totopalios.

  • kevin | October 26, 2013 2:13 PMReply

    Sometimes it's embarassing being Canadian. It SO felt Cdn..the acting so muted. My gut told me this was a Canadian movie before I even looked it up.

  • VampireLover | December 19, 2012 7:30 PMReply

    This Movieseries is ten times better then the twilight series but dont get the respect and sucess of it...its a shame and the review too. The CGI fits so well never see its CGI unlike to Twilight where u can see anny CGI involvement.

  • juna | September 18, 2012 5:16 AMReply

    miss with michael corving character in under world 4, hope in the next series scot speedman can joint and make great team "selene,michael n eve" can;t wait the next Under World.....

  • analis17 | September 1, 2012 2:51 AMReply

    Thanks for your review, it had me laughing hysterically -- I enjoyed the lack of excessive language and wry humor. I love the first two movies (only seen and own one and two edited because back in the day that was still allowed), and although Michael could be considered a weak character I find a man that knows when to do what's in his best interest (i.e. duck down when Selene is shooting over his head) very refreshing. He knows its her show (figuratively and literally), and he trusts her enough to follow her lead. So maybe I'll watch it sometime, or maybe I'll wait until Scott Speedman comes back. Because let's face it: one of the reasons we love Selene is because she isn't an ice queen and loves Michael purely for being himself even when himself can only growl in hybrid form (gotta admit that there are downsides to these things). I wouldn't dare say Selene's on par with Ripley but she's at least a female character who steals the show without any of the usual indecisive/lost of innocence moments that could inspire a montage. Either way, you answered my question (where's Michael!?) so if I do watch it I won't be disappointed and can just enjoy the ride of mother-daughter attack duo.
    Thanks again for making it a fun read, I'm going to share it with friends. :)

  • tommy | August 27, 2012 7:34 PMReply

    i actually thought it was an interesting twist with keeping michael out of this one. for most of the film your led to believe michael was dead, with selene being subject 1 and eve being subject 2. who would even consider a subject 0? a good way to bring in a new character (eve), without overshadowing her powers with both selene AND michael. definitely think #5 could be the best in the series, considering how powerful we know michael to be, how strong selene became after drinking alexander's blood, and how powerful eve is. thats a team i wouldnt wanna come across in a dark alley

  • tommy | August 27, 2012 7:26 PMReply

    who is this chick? UA was pretty awesome I thought. Must be an overweight, sweat-pants-wearing, slob of a woman that's so jealous of kate beckinsale, she has nothing else to do but trash her movies. The film made over 150 million world wide, its obviously not a B movie, and the series as a whole has banked over 450 million, with only 177 million budget over 4 movies. i can't even believe i read this whole article. Underworld rules, can't wait for Michael to come back

  • me | August 26, 2012 1:56 AMReply

    Your ana asshole that doesnt know what the fuck your talking about.ALL UNDERWORLD MOVIES ARE AWSOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

  • Hardfu | August 23, 2012 3:04 PMReply

    I can't tell if this reviewer is being serious or not. I'm not even an Underworld fanboy but I watched this movie and thought it was crazy good. Didn't have the same cheesey-ish effects from previous ones and the action was non-stop. Honestly, it wasn't even a throwaway story either.

    I think this guy just doesn't like Speedman is just, generally, a dick. Way to break the angry, hate everything movie reviewer stereotype buddy.

  • AJ | August 23, 2012 12:47 AMReply

    I find your overuse of sarcasism so annoying I could not stand to read the rest of the article. Not because I'm such a huge, defensive, Underworld fan; rather because you run around points with wording and attemptive humor so much that I am dizzy and nautious.

  • Sherine Roberts | August 8, 2012 9:34 AMReply

    Underworld are all the best Vampire movies I can't waited to see Underworld 5 when it comes out If Kate Beckinsale is not in the Underworld it sucks but if Kate Beckinsale is in the movie it does not suck it is one of my favourite Vampire movies of all time I will go and see Underworld 5 at the Odeon in Liverpool 1 when it comes out I love Vampire movies
    your bigest fan Sherine Joanne Roberts
    from Liverpool

  • Neutral | July 29, 2012 5:57 AMReply

    ...AND IT WAS THE HIGHEST GROSSING UNDERWORLD FILM.
    LETS NOT FORGET THAT Jessica Kiang.

  • ggmale | June 29, 2012 1:56 AMReply

    Ok so you and i both k.ow that the fi
    rst three films were great..............oh and scott was working on the vow!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • rafiq | June 19, 2012 1:43 PMReply

    is there really under world is there in our world

  • A Reviewer with Morals | June 17, 2012 10:26 PMReply

    I really hate the review of this movie. It is one-sided, petty, and completely ridiculous. I think that the critic is too self-serving and rude to have their review taken seriously. True, there were some faults in the film, but the outright arrogance of the review made me nauseous. I understand everyone has a right to their own opinions, but blatantly insulting someone else's hard work when you cannot do any better is unacceptable and just plain appalling.
    I just hope that the critic reads over her grade 9 english notes and fixes all of HER mistakes before writing another review.
    Note: I probably would have left this review alone if it had not been for the insult on Canadian films. I'm truely sorry you are so close-minded.

  • hardfu | August 23, 2012 3:06 PM

    150% agree with you and AJ. Actually, after reading all these comments... the general consensus is that this review is an idiot and the movie was actually good. I've never seen such a lopsided agreement on the horribleness of a review... it's impressive, haha.

  • AJ | August 23, 2012 1:00 AM

    I completely agree with you! How annoying is that writer?! If this than thou though....omg so annoying! It's like she was giggling the whole time to herself thinking it was fantastic literary commentary...when it was just her childish, lack of personality, attempt at being witty.

  • rose | June 9, 2012 8:19 PMReply

    awesome movie you should hear my brother go on & on about it

  • Jessica and Cole | June 9, 2012 1:43 AMReply

    Hubs is a big UW fan. Me? Meh. We both just laughed our asses off at your review. You are a genius.

  • Hannah | June 5, 2012 11:34 AMReply

    In the first Underworld Selene talked about Kraven faking Luciens death and setting the great blaze and when viktor made her a vampire dont you think we should get to see how that really panned out lol x there should be a tone of werewolves there then lol x they have to use SHANE BROLLY who played him other wise they shouldent bother lol x

  • Widlička | May 21, 2012 7:52 AMReply

    Seriously, I love Underworld, but this review just made me laugh so hard :D:D And it´s right in few things. And from my point of view, this was the worst part of Underworld. Some would say it was the best, and some would say it´s because Michael wasn´t in it, but for me it was the worst BECAUSE he wasn´t in it. Well... he was... or wasn´t? What the hell? It was really messy. Anyway, I´m looking forward to nr.5, and I hope Speedman will make up his mind and play his damned character. (sorry for any mistakes, english is not my mother language..)

  • Rob Johnson | May 18, 2012 3:16 AMReply

    Could not be more wrong! This site needs a new reviewer. I bet your a twilight fan!

  • John Doe | May 15, 2012 9:47 PMReply

    Terrible review, and completely absurd. How does a critic complain about both a lack of character development, and then go on to laud the film's short running time? Make up your mind.

  • Alex | May 7, 2012 12:32 AMReply

    And FYI they WILL make a UW 5. I guess the name is long but that's ok. I bet everyone a hundred, no a million bucks that they will criticize if its bad, or praise it like hell if its good. '--_--
    There shouldnt even be any critics. Sorry excuse for a human being...

  • Alex | May 7, 2012 12:30 AMReply

    Like srsly? WTF is facking wrong with these critics? Its not like YOU can make a movie. But really, UW 4 was quite amazing, and for those people who said "Why is she fighting AGAINST HUMANS?!?!" well for godness sake she had to! I mean, think about it. Humans took her hostage. They froze her in a tube of some sort. They kept her for 12 frikkin years! AND THEY FAKING took hostage of her family! If you wanna say something like that do it to TWILIGHT!

  • Odd | June 2, 2012 11:19 PM

    Welcome to the 'entertainment' industry! We were entertained & enjoyed watching all parts; special affects, acting, battles, story line/plot, etc. Yes!! We actually had an attitude to enjoy it!!
    Hate to socialize with critics. They'd criticize every aspect of their life. LOL. Why do these critics bother going to movies if they seldom enjoy themselves? Ha ha ha. What a eared life comparing everything instead of enjoying it. UW5... We'll be there.

  • Yuri | March 22, 2012 3:46 PMReply

    I LOVE the Underworld movies I hope a fifth one comes out!!!!!!!!

  • Fuck The Critics | February 20, 2012 3:29 AMReply

    Ok first off i wanna say WTF is up with critics now a days does the movie have to be bored as fuck for it to have a good rating exp: (A Dangerous Method) that movie was so fuckin boring i almost had a mental break and decide to hunt down every one who took a part in it . Never the less we here critics say "Ravishing and Superbly done!" What was done besides some boney ass retarded nympho chick getting screwed by an Adolf Hitler look-a-like? I couldve seen that in porn. Therfore fuck you critcs i liked Underworld 4 and the rest ofem too. It was a little short but still it wasnt some aristocrat bullsit bout tee and crumpets.

  • Alex | May 7, 2012 12:34 AM

    Thats what im facking trying to say. Instead of glimmering and shimmering twilight stars, they're wicked vampires and lycans (what a majestic name) who happens to stick to the customs of being faking BURNT when in DAYLIGHT. Thats why the first Underworld had no day scenes. --__-- Stupid cunts

  • bryan | February 17, 2012 6:22 AMReply

    Underworld junkie here. Have to say not so much. Scott made the Michael role and its been cut down to almost nothing. Saw awakening and will be the last one. Hybrid was what kept me buy like the part I am slowly being pushed out of scene. 1 and 2 where the best ones. Now like a washed up band still trying to push it. FYI my wife and I where the only 2 in theater if that says anything

  • Angie | February 12, 2012 9:26 PMReply

    Well, you'd be surprised but people actually do ask where's Michael (go see comments on trailer on youtube). I also think he's an important element to the story, you can't just lose one of the two main characters. But, I def agree with "the characterization is ludicrously thin" part, the lines that Theo James says are so corny that you don't even care when he dies. But it's Underworld, Kate's in PVC, action scenes are amusing enough so people will watch it (including me). And I'll even watch "Underworld 5: Dawn of the Rise of the Evolution of the Planet of the Hybrids” if they go back to the roots (which means Michael back).

  • ggmale | June 29, 2012 2:09 AM

    Title fuckin re
    tarted four yr old coul
    d make better title.

  • Ellie | February 3, 2012 6:19 PMReply

    Well I enjoyed it, a nice little bit of escapism . Isn't it strange..have a look on flixster, you will notice that every time the critics slate a film and give it a low rating, us "normal " people love it and give it high ratings ! Hmmmm says something about critics doesn't it.

  • Alex | May 7, 2012 12:37 AM

    :) Finally another person who understands me. :) :) :) :) :)

  • Allen | January 28, 2012 8:24 PMReply

    i liked the movie, even tho speedman wasnt in it, as far as his acting in the previous films go, i imagine i'd say his acting is alot better than your critical opinion, i do miss the Michael element i must admit, the movie was dark, yes, to short, yes, to much CGI...no more than any film i've seen in the past 3 years, your halfwits..but the truth is: they who cant write a book/script NOR act to save there ass become critic's, or post rude comments on these boards, ya'll dont like the movie's dont watch them, if your feeling pevish, go to the baby section at your local Walmart, pick up a pack of Binky's and suck your tiny minds out.

  • Davinciboson | January 23, 2012 9:00 AMReply

    Yes, your little play on 'the rise of the planet of the apes' unfortunate title change is slightly ill-conceived as that was actually a great movie, but your point was well made. I do have to disagree about Michael though as I just don't buy Kate Beckinsdale as a supreme warrior, she's lacking in charisma, that hard edge and explosiveness that makes an action hero believable. One really needs a male action lead to sell it. Kate looks good but that's about it. Audiences, even female ones yearn for a strong male action lead to take the reins, the feminist/warrior prevalence in film roles seems very contrived and to a large extent it is, as feminism was actually promoted by the globalist authorities in order to undermine the family structure and deter women from marriage and traditional feminine, nurturing roles (reducing child bearing and making society divided and easier to manipulate) but that's a whole different issue. Otherwise your review was good, and I completely agree about the blueness.

  • Disgusted Reader #2 AKA Nick | July 14, 2012 2:41 AM

    I agree with the first disgusted reader. You're just a simple minded, sexist, idiot. I'm a guy and I love watching action movies with a female lead.

  • Disgusted reader | July 13, 2012 5:24 AM

    You're a sexist, stuck in the dark ages, pig head, arrogant worm. Not only was I appalled by your comment a male is needed to strengthen the action (which if you haven't noticed, even in the first and second films, Kate is the main character and often saves Scott's ass), but your comments about feminism being created to stop families and so n and so forth only proves why the very act of feminism is needed in this overly corrupt world. You sicken me. I came here to enjy UW talk and your comments had nothing to do with the topic.

  • Alex | May 7, 2012 12:36 AM

    I agree that micheal should be in it. But then there wont be something to look forward to.
    SO ARE U IN OR OUT

  • Cinematic_high | January 20, 2012 9:51 AMReply

    Your title for the next Underworld is brilliant! Is there any way I can watch this on mute? I'll need extra, extra butter on my popcorn.....her catsuit brings out my inner Pee Wee Herman.....

  • mE | August 26, 2012 2:05 AM

    YOUR A FUCKING SEXIST,ASSHOLE PIG!!!!!!!!YOU SOUND LIKE A FUCKING IDIOT,SO SHOVE YOUR "PEE WEE HERMAN" IN A LIGHT SOCKET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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