I try to not make a habit out of reviewing random sequels in franchises when I haven't seen the other films. It's not a great idea, generally, especially on the internet where people like to take you to task for those sorts of things. There are a few reasons though why I think for a film like "Underworld: Awakening", it's ok. First, the filmmakers themselves are clearly trying to bridge away from the original trilogy and start a new storyline here. The entirety of the last three films is summed up in about :45 seconds during the opening credits. Second, let's be honest here, these films aren't exactly rocket science. Hot chick + leather body suit + futuristic weaponry + werewolves + vampires = fanboy fun. That said, I'm less here to tell an "Underworld" fanatic why he or she should or shouldn't watch this sequel, as I am to make a case for the uninitiated why they might want to give Kate Beckinsale and co. a chance. For those who do consider themselves hardcore fans, let me assure you that all the things that you love about "Underworld" are present and accounted for. Feel free to move on with your day.
For those of you still here, the film opens with an escape scene. No longer relegated to the shadows, humanity is now well aware that both Vampires and Lycans live among them. Let's just say they're not happy with the situation, and they do what humans usually do when confronted with people different from them… they enact a campaign of mass genocide. Armed with a cadre of neat, futuristic weapons tailor-made to take out both species (example: silver grenades for Lycans, ultraviolet lights for vampires), the human forces succeed in putting the beasties on the run. This includes Kate Beckinsale's "Selene", whom we meet as she attempts to meet up with her Lycan/Vampire hybrid boytoy from the previous films. Instead, they're intercepted by the police, and she blacks out.
She wakes up in a lab, awoken from a cryogenically frozen sleep, to complete chaos. She escapes, and soon learns that she's been asleep for twelves years in the lab. From there she sets out to find her mate, with whom she thinks she has a psychic link, find out why she was being held in a research facility, and navigate her way through this strange world which she no longer understands.
The setup for "Underworld: Awakening" is incredibly friendly to people like myself who haven't seen the other films. By putting Selene in a situation that forces her to try and gather clues to understand her new world, it puts us on equal footing with her. Once we get the original flashback, and I'll be honest I couldn't tell where the flashbacks ended and the new material began, we jump headfirst into an entirely new story. When a plot-point from a previous film does come up, it's explained quickly in a way that nods to the audience members "this is something you may not know, but it's important". For instance, when Beckinsale encounters a little girl about a half an hour in, her shocked look might suggest that she's someone of importance from the past. The little girl then says "do you know who I am?" And Selene immediately replies "No". Not exactly the most elegant of devices, but it put me at ease, and let me know that I'd be fed information when I needed it.
Not that I cared all that much about the story itself. What I was really here for was gratuitous 3D vampire fighting action, and the film doesn't disappoint on that front. Interviews with the director of the original "Underworld" and writer of this sequel, Len Wiseman (also Beckinsale's husband), suggest that they brought the character to a darker, more brutal place. This shows even to the uninitiated. Selene seems interested with protecting only one life besides her own, and any human who gets in her way gets no sympathy. She combines martial arts with some pretty impressive (although highly impractical) automatic pistols to lay waste to anything that gets in her way. You may be unable to resist the temptation to question things like where they store all the ammo on a tiny pistol that shoots three hundred rounds a second, but then I'd probably suggest that it's possible you're missing the point.
Despite the fact that I got a serious kick out of the action, I will say that I regret my choice to see this in 3D. During no less than the "Regal Premium Experience", the screen was frustratingly dark. This may be a function of the shadowy nature of the film (seriously, you see the sun a grand total of 2 times), but whatever equipment this film was shot and converted with was woefully inadequate to deal with all the darkness here. With the exception of some particle effects added in post production, the 3D is completely superfluous and at times even distracting from the overall experience. It's one of the few areas where Wiseman could learn a thing or two from his counterpart Paul W. S. Anderson's "Resident Evil" series (the other action/horror/"dress my wife up sexy" trilogy). Those films don't make a god damn lick of sense, but they nail the gratuitous 3D. My hope for the next "Underworld" film would be they abandon it all together... but I'm not stupid enough to think that's going to happen.
I've never really understood action films. Unless it was something I had nostalgia for, like say Nic Cage landing a plane on the Vegas strip, I've always struggled to relate to the kind of person who spends all their time watching cheesy action movies. What I'm realizing as I get older though, is that if you throw in some good old fashion monsters and heaps of gore, suddenly it starts to make sense to me. This series in particular ups the ante by having Kate Beckinsale in a skin-tight leather suit, just in case your reptile brain wasn't significantly stimulated by all the firepower and hardcore violence. Sometimes I'm a simple man… and sometimes I require a simple movie. If you ever feel that same itch, "Underworld" might be a place you would want to visit. I know I'm looking forward to the next film, and plan to go back to catch up on the original series, in case that's worth anything to you.