Guess That’s Why they Call it the Blues

Underworld: Awakening (2012)
Seen at: The Twelveplex
Who: Måns Mårlind & Björn Stein (d), Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy, Theo James, India Eisley, Sandrine Holt, Charles Dance
Baggage: First viewing, at what must be NYC’s yappiest cinema.
Bias: I love the Underworld movies. It’s just like that.

As the pre-show advertising segment winds down to make way for trailers, my friend Autumn takes a moment to check the ratings for Underworld: Awakening on Rotten Tomatoes. “Oh look,” she says. “The critics give it 28%, and the audience gives it 77.” (If you don’t Tomato, 100% is very good and 0% is very bad.)

We agree that this is going to be fun, and – if you like the Underworld movies – it is. If you don’t like the Underworld movies, the real question is what you’re doing in the theater watching this. Because, like, seriously? It’s an Underworld movie.

And what are the elements of a successful Underworld movie? We’ve had four of them to date, three in the groove and one far afield, and that’s enough to get to the heart of things.

  • All Kate Beckinsale, all the time (sorry, Rhona Mitra, you were fine but Rise of the Lycans was a pile of hooey).
  • Everyone must be Very Serious, even – especially – when no one in the audience has any idea what is going on.
  • Shiny squeaky leather, especially on Kate Beckinsale.
  • Night-like blue. Unless there is a compelling reason for a scene to be some other color, it should be blue. If there is a compelling reason that it should not be blue, it should probably be blue anyway.
  • Large fetishy guns doing loud ridiculous things (recurrent cartoon motif: shooting people-shaped holes in walls and floors, then crashing through them). Note that it is sufficient to reload once per movie.
  • Approved activities: running, jumping, and shooting, at regular speed and in slow motion, ideally in combination with shiny squeaky leather and Kate Beckinsale.
  • Ancillary complex, looming, baroque plot, safely ignored in favor of the running, jumping, etc. Who are these people? Who cares?
  • No fatties, unless they are promptly torn apart by werewolves.
  • Obviously, this one passes, with flying blues. In many ways it’s the most complete of the franchise. It’s been honed and trimmed (six writers are credited, in three different categories) to a safe 110 pounds soaking wet, give or take, and it’s mercilessly toned. It’s the most idiomatic of the Underworld series, almost completely without reference to the outer world: no wonder real-time critics don’t like it.

    Back in 2006, after watching Underworld: Evolution (second of the four), I felt that the team missed a great chance with that movie. Rather than keep up with the hokum, I suggested, they could trim it down and cut most of the dialogue, and just show Ms. Beckinsale running, Ms. Beckinsale jumping, Ms. Beckinsale shooting, Ms. Beckinsale going up the stairs, Ms. Beckinsale running while shooting, Ms. Beckinsale jumping up the stairs, and so forth. Mix in some vampire teeth and the occasional explosion, and it would be a completely satisfying experience. This time out, they’ve done essentially that.

    There are a few slips here: the new vampire elder, for example, tries to chew on his text like Bill Nighy does, but nobody can chew on text like Bill Nighy – it’s not that easy to turn “kind” into a convincing two-syllable word, but he’s a champ.

    And I respect that Ms. Beckinsale might be modest and no longer an I’ll-try-anything-once new kid on the block. However, as we have established conclusively in the Resident Evil movies, when you smash your naked way out of the Hibernation Tube in the Scary Research Lab, it is gauche to have computer-generated Hollywood fog clinging to your loins, your butt, and your nipples. This is especially true when your movie is being marketed right under a long trailer for the upcoming new Resident Evil chapter. When Milla Jovovich busts naked out of her Hibernation Tubes, she is naked, and she plays it naked. If you don’t want to be flashing, then don’t be naked in the first place. The coy thing is too little too late, and it actually undercuts the character: Selene wouldn’t think twice about nudity, and this is early in the picture, when she’s still establishing control over the action. It’s an unfortunate bit of prissy teasing.

    Once she’s dressed, though, Ms. Beckinsale is the Selene of old, and this is a long, blue, actiony, dopey, destructy, fun, and deadpan romp. I did not see it in 3D, and I don’t feel like I missed a lot on that score.

    About Linus

    The man behind the curtain. But couldn't we get a nicer curtain?
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