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It’s not brain surgery: Kate Beckinsale + skin-tight leather = box office. The irony there is that Beckinsale has always been above the material, but through a series of circumstances (marrying the director, for one), vampire hitwoman Selene has become her most iconic role to date, and probably for the rest of her career. A lesser actress might find that amazingly depressing and seek indie roles where she has sex with her brother or father or play a deranged serial killer. In the case of Beckinsale, though, she seems to have accepted her position (ahem) of being a fanboy’s wet dream, and after taking a break from the franchise, once again picks up her guns to kill some Lycans (that would be werewolves to those of you who don’t speak “Underworld”) and look fabulous while doing it.
The plot of “Awakening” finds the fugitive vampire death dealer Selene (Beckinsale) waking up 12 years in the near-future. Mankind has since discovered the existence of vampires and Lycans and have all but exterminated them, driving the few remaining underground. Michael, Selene’s lover from the first two films, is nowhere to be found (he was shot and blown up early in the movie), but that isn’t going to stop Selene from suiting up (her trademark leather outfit is helpfully nearby) and kicking some ass. She wants answers, you see, such as, who is the 12-year old kid (India Eisley) that kinda looks like a young Selene and has a British accent, just like Selene? Oh come on, do I have to spell it out for you?
Crappy 3D conversion aside, “Underworld: Awakening” clocks in at just under 90 minutes, which is, let’s face it, all that’s really needed anyway. Beckinsale makes a welcome return to the franchise after going missing in the third movie, a prequel that explored her past. Rhona Mitra was a decent stand-in in “Lycans”, but Beckinsale is Beckinsale, and Mitra is, well, not. It’s too bad Beckinsale couldn’t demand a better script, which credits four writers, including her husband (and the director of the first two movies) Len Wiseman. More disappointingly, one of the credited screenwriters is J. Michael Straczynski, creator of TV’s beloved “Babylon 5″ franchise. But hey, I guess the mortgage on the second home don’t pay themselves, right, J. Michael?
Helping Selene on her quest to discover the truth and beat back slimy bad guy Stephen Rea, head honcho of an evil pharmaceutical corporation (are there any other kind of pharmaceutical corporations?), are Michael Ealy (“Takers”) as a cop, Theo James as Selene’s fellow vampire survivor David, and Charles Dance as a head vampire. The boys do what they can, but let’s face it, this is all about the girls. Or, more specifically, girl. Beckinsale looks fantastic in the black leather, of course, and at this point in her career, gravity-defying stunts and gun-fu — while looking ridiculously hot — are old hat. She pulls it all off, and Swedish co-directors Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein always seem to know exactly where to place the camera in order to show off their leading lady’s best, er, angles. Bravo, boys, bravo!
Give them this: “Underworld: Awakening” is violent. And gory. The red stuff splatters pretty regularly, and Selene has never been deadlier (if a tad more powerful than I remember). Visually, the film maintains the same metallic dark blue tint that Wiseman used in the first two movies. But unlike the first two films, the script and the directors don’t seem especially interested in messing around with too much vampire/Lycan baggage. Remember in the first movie when there seemed to be an unGodly dull 30 or so minutes of vampire politics and backstabbing? Well, forget about it. “Awakening” has no interest in all that nonsense. And why should they, when they could be pitting Selene against killer werewolves, including a monstrous (and appropriately named) Uber Lycan? This is what the kids came to see, after all, why bog them down with your silly screwed up monster family tree?
Is “Awakening” the best of the bunch? Eh. That will probably depend on how you view the series as a whole. While there were some extremely dull moments taken up with vampire pathos in the first two films, you have to admit that at least there were some attempts at exploring Selene, the cold-hearted killer who just really needed a good man in her life, as it turns out. There isn’t a whole lot of that in “Awakening”, and any attempts at exploring Selene through Eve, the mysterious 12-year old girl, falls pretty flat. More could have also been done with the whole “Selene wakes up in the future” angle, but I guess that would take too much time away from Selene bashing in heads and shooting holes in people, and really, isn’t that what we just want from our “Underworld” movies?
Måns Mårlind, Björn Stein (director) / Len Wiseman, John Hlavin, J. Michael Straczynski, Allison Burnett(screenplay)
CAST: Kate Beckinsale … Selene
Stephen Rea … Dr. Jacob Lane
Michael Ealy … Detective Sebastian
Theo James … David
India Eisley … Eve
Sandrine Holt … Lida
Charles Dance … Thomas