The Underworld Awakens
In a film that tonally hits closer to the first Resident Evil film than it’s Underworld predecessors, Awakening serves up non-stop action and holds true to the quote above; it is undeniably fun to watch, but there isn’t much plot to chew on as it merely establishes the landscape and effectively leaves us with a cliffhanger for more.
We’ve covered the previous entries in our reviews for Underworld, Evolution, and Rise of the Lycans with the moody, provocative themes explored in the original trilogy. This fourth film introduces a new season for our protagonist, new storyline and locale in the same way a new creative team might take over a comic book or television series; it’s the same character (Selene) operating in a new environment with a tweaked style. In comparison with the other films, it succeeds as an entry of equal caliber (unlike the fourth Resident Evil) but has so much action and establishing to do it doesn’t offer much in the way of plot. Although video games now offer far more complex storylines, this one follows the classic first-person shooter scenario, even with a “boss fight” at the end, not unlike last year’s Battle: Los Angeles.
The film carries a sensibility more “zombie-apocalypse” than vampire or werewolf. People see the two monsters as an infection or plague, and a world-wide “purge” has occurred in the space between films. Like Alice in Resident Evil, our protagonist awakens confused and uncertain of the world she inhabits. However, she hasn’t forgotten who SHE is: vampire, Death Dealer, lover of vampire-werewolf hybrids and drinker of the original immortal’s blood, the now sun-walking Selene already has quite a backstory. She wakes to find that humans seem to be the aggressive enemy now, werewolves are starved sewer dwellers living like rats, and there’s a girl running around who may be her daughter. Still, the status quo in Underworld movies is never quite what it seems…
“My heart’s not cold, it’s broken.”
Between kicking, shooting, jumping and throwing things, we only get glimpses of what’s going on in Selene’s heart or mind. As roller-coaster spectacle, it’s fun, but I would have easily sat for 10-20 more minutes if the film had delved a little deeper. Between the action cracks we see that our heroine is weary but relentless, and that she believes life is about more than survival.
Some critics have said “enough, we get it” when it comes to her relentless search and fight for her lover Michael. I think these people probably don’t understand love, either the romantic oneness between a husband and wife or the relentless pursuit of our creator, God. It’s the same type of passion we see in Bryan Mills fatherly love, his relentless pursuit of his daughter in Taken. Perhaps those who tire of seeing this in action have not experienced it?
Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me; deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men. – Psalm 59
Selene’s passion is redirected as she’s introduced to her daughter Eve, who becomes the new life she’s bound to protect. The film struggles to answer the question of what – if any – hope they have beyond mere survival.
What is worth living for?
Theo James plays David, a younger vampire whose father (played with a dash of Bill Nighy’s facial twitch by Charles Dance) has the vampire coven cowering underground. Inspired by Selene, David wants to fight back, a desire reinforced when Selene agrees that hiding and simply “surviving” isn’t worth living for. However, by the end of the movie, Selene – or the film – hasn’t really provided any hopeful alternative. Hiding OR fighting, if the only reason to survive is survival itself, what’s the point? It’s clear this film needs a sequel that may provide an answer to that question, but for now it hangs in the air much like it does for the characters in Underworld’s horror-genre cousin, AMC’s critically acclaimed The Walking Dead.
What point is there to life if it’s simply the struggle for food/clothing/shelter and survival from the elements (including people, undead, etc?) Underworld: Awakening intimates a vague idea of family may be worth fighting for – husband, offspring – but this again ultimately falls flat without some true hope attached. If there is another installment to this second Underworld trilogy, it will be interesting to see if they provide any vision for reconciliation or redemption or if the story’s final answer is: life is hard, and then you die.
The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. – Psalm 90:10
The rigorous reality of life in Underworld is not a narrative premise lacking biblical foundation, mind you. Life is toil and trouble, even if that doesn’t involve mega-werewolves and big corporate conspiracies. There will always be some level of fight, some level of loss, some level of disappointment this side of eternity. The comfort for the Christian is that when the credits roll on our lives and this world, there is a series reboot where all tears are wiped away and there truly is happily ever after.
The bleak, seemingly snowballing tragedy of Selene’s life in Underworld only reminds the Christian that although our lives may be similar in many ways on various levels, there is an eternal afterparty after our film wraps. Do you share that comfort? Even if our troubles don’t include leather catsuits, drooling Lycans, and missing spouses, that blessed assurance makes even our hardest day bearable.
The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:17
I watched this last night and I was a little confused. Should I be sympathetic to blood-thirsty vampires or the murderous werewolves? If that was the point I think it failed. But a fun watch nevertheless.
I think the series and character motivations have pretty much devolved into the book of Judges, “everyone doing what is right in their own eyes”. Even Selene’s motivations at the end (spoiler) appear to be for her species to rise again, with seeming disregard for anyone else. I thought that last line was kinda sad. Or poorly written, considering her character’s understanding about vampires, their deceptions, and the lies behind her own fanged genesis.