At the start of Underworld: Awakening, the fourth film in the franchise, we get a handy-dandy, in-case-you-missed-it recap of the first two movies; it’s almost as if to say, “We’re done with all that stuff– now let’s get down to business.” (And, while we’re at it, let’s just pretend the superfluous, Kate Beckinsale-free third film never existed.)

Writer and series creator (and Beckinsale’s husband) Len Wiseman wisely decided to move beyond all the history and folklore that had guided the saga to this point and instead just let the action carry the day.

The result is a non-stop, kick-butt flick that delivers across the board, even despite a few missteps along the way.

Selene (Beckinsale) begins by telling us how the human world discovered the existence of the vampire and werewolf (Lycan) clans and immediately launched ‘The Purge’, a global crackdown on everything non-human. Selene ends up a victim herself, captured and preserved cryogenically in a lab for scientists to analyze.

Fast forward to twelve years later, when she mysteriously thaws and then discovers she gave birth to a daughter Eve (India Eisley) just after she was knocked out. In the meantime, the lab has been extracting DNA from mother and daughter for testing… and that’s never good.

Before long, Selene has donned her black latex bodysuit and is back to her super-cool killing ways, having discovered that the Lycans (long thought to be mostly extinct) are actually back… bigger (literally) than ever.

With the help of a sympathetic human cop and a fellow vampire, Selene sets out to uncover what was really going on in the lab, and then continue her fight against Lycan Central.

Hand it to Beckinsale– she still knows how to kick butt (and not wait around long enough to take names). Her deadpan delivery and cool-as-ice strutting through the streets are just as fun now as they always have been, and, without the help of any returning characters from the previous films, she single-handedly keeps the franchise afloat… and even gives it a well-needed adrenaline shot to boot.

Directors Marlind and Stein don’t stray too far, stylistically, from the first three films– the steel-blue hue still dominates the festivities, strobe lights and lightning pop throughout, and Beckinsale, deservedly so, is front and center. The screenplay by Wiseman, et al. squanders what could have been a nice, juicy set up (humans are finally getting in on the action), in favor of reverting to the ol’ vampire-vs.-Lycan story line, but even at that, Underworld: Afterlife works. And works well. The fight choreography is still top-notch, and the action never lets up.

All of a sudden the series that was essentially left for dead (or un-dead) has life again… with Beckinsale’s trenchcoat and double-fist, automatic pistols leading the way.

4/5 stars