In a post-Matrix 2003, characters in leather and longcoats shot and fought it out in a subway with slow-motion intensity. While these cinematic battles weren’t uncommon after the Wachowski brothers had Neo set a visual trend in 1999, Underworld added a new wrinkle… as we found out the black-clad goth characters were actually vampires and werewolves caught in a centuries-old feud. (To be fair, Blade the vampire hunter actually preceded The Matrix by a year in setting some of this “leaping-leather” visual style, so although Keanu Reeves mainstreamed the action eye-candy, a vampire movie actually established the look and even bullet-time). The first Underworld film continued Wesley Snipes’ toothy style (and expanded on it) by adding a gothic backdrop and a hairy love story. Also, 2003 positioned this story of Lycans versus Vamps–with a “forbidden romance” in the middle–two full years before a little-known book about Edward and Bella would rock the world, “eclipse” book sales and bore us with roll-eye cinema.
Team Victor or Team Lucien, anyone?
Now it’s 2012, and vampires are everywhere in books, film and television. It’s not surprising, then to see that the death-dealing Vampire Seline is back for Underworld: Awakening. Before we accuse Hollywood of resurrecting a franchise purely to cash in on the trend, however, let’s be fair: like clockwork, the Underworld series has then gone on to provide a new installment every three years, the sequel rhythm of Star Wars and most franchises in the 20th century before the modern era of back-to-back sequels and frantic fan-pleasing. 2006 brought Underworld: Evolution and 2009 gave us Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. Most critics felt the sequels each grew paler than their predecessor, though I personally think each film has its flaws and they reside on a fairly similar artistic trajectory. Now that another three years have elapsed, we’ll have to see if the new film is truly an “awakening” or if it puts a sequel stake in the franchise’s heart.
The trilogy actually makes a nice, full-circle set, the ancient secrets revealed in the first film chronicled in the third film, a flashback to the origin of the supernatural war that brings everything into the light. The last shot of the third film is the first film in the original, which does make any need for a fourth film questionable. However, since (as a prequel) the third film didn’t feature Seline, many fans thought it was lesser and wished Kate Beckinsale would reprise her role. I also suspected they were lining up a subtle plot device in Evolution, and it appears they’re indeed revealing this as a significant facet of the fourth film.
All three previous films feature some classic narrative chords, from a Shakespearean romance to biblical themes of generational sin and the lies of origin that poison our life choices. Slavery and the need for a savior, who we were born to be… all these ideas emerge amidst the washed-out landscape of a world that appeals to a wider demographic than Tween girls and Twilight moms. We’ll review each film this week leading up to the release of Awakening on Friday, so it’s officially Underworld Week, and we’ll cap it off the tour this weekend with our first review of a 2012 film. Here’s a review of the first Underworld.