Review in a Hurry: After leaving the third film to the just-as-sexy Rhona Mitra, Kate Beckinsale is back in skintight black for the fourth installment. Death Dealer Selene (Beckinsale) wakes up in a future where humans have discovered the existence of vampires and Lycans. Led by Stephen Rea, they have waged a war to eradicate both.
The budget is bigger and the 3-D is pretty much a given nowadays, but Awakening keeps it simple and most importantly knows Beckinsale never needs a wardrobe change. Fans will be pleased, although if you've never seen an Underworld film there's probably no reason to start now.
The Bigger Picture: Like last year's Resident Evil: Afterlife, Awakening is a reboot of sorts for the Underworld series. And like RE4, U4 has ditched a lot that came before in favor of a new look that's natively shot in 3-D and feels like…Resident Evil. Now that the humans are the enemy, there are plenty of masked soldiers on patrol in a world gone to hell by way of the Umbrella Corp. or some facsimile thereof. Save for one scene set in a vampire lair, gone too are the Gothic-looking castles.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it points to what has always been the series' biggest problem: no real identity. The first Underworld was nearly a decade ago and that film, with it's hundreds of bullets and heavy use of slow-mo, was a Matrix clone.
The producers have finally figured out that the demo for these films—young dudes—probably never cared whether Selene would find love with her hybrid hottie Michael (originally played by Scott Speedman, here recast by a marginally OK look-alike.) So now they've given Selene a killer hybrid pre-teen offspring instead named Eve (India Eisley). Yup, that pairing should do well for parts five, six and beyond.
What the producers haven't figured out is that playing these films so deathly serious still gets monotonous. The only humor comes from the satire-tasic teaser that plays before Awakenings…for the new Resident Evil.
For what it's worth, this might be the best in the series. There's barely any needless backstory anymore and the action scenes are pretty effective whether experienced in 3-D or 2-D. Credit should go to Beckinsale who is front and center for nearly the entire run time. We know it's all wirework and heavy CGI but at the very least it always feels like our black spandexed heroine is vaulting into the air offing those pesky humans.
The 180—A Second Opinion: With a reported budget of 70 million—twice as much as the other films—things still feel way too shot-on-an-Eastern-European-backlot cheap. Just how many underground garages and austere office complexes can one dystopian future have?