*If you like plenty of thrills, action and 3D special effects, then Screen Gems “Underworld: The Awakening”, the fourth movie in the horror/fantasy Underworld franchise, will have you sitting on the edge of your seat.

“Underworld Awakening” once again takes us back to the world of Vampires and the Lycans (werewolves) where Vampire Kate Beckinsale returns as the warrior princess Selene. The leather-clad heroine believes that the Lycans slaughtered her family when she was a child and she has devoted herself completely to avenging their deaths.

Selene has been captured and is being kept at the biotech conglomerate Antigen studios, where she has been cryogenically frozen for 12 years. Antigen has been working on a vaccine against the viruses that have created Vampires and Lycans.

Selene manages to escape only to discover the world has changed—where once the Vampires and Lycans ruled and hunted humans, the humans are now hunting Vampires and Lycans.

The Warrior Princess is caught by surprise when she discovers that she conceived a child when she was frozen at Antigen studios. Her daughter, Eve, (17-year-old India Eisley) is a hybrid—half Vampire and half Lycan—the first of her kind.  Selene’s t motherly instincts kick in and she is determined to save and protect the child from any and all circumstances. She spirits the child away from Antigen studios, where its director, the evil  Dr. Lane (played with venal sliminess by Stephen Ray), launches a full-out assault to get Eve back–but little does anyone suspect that he has a well-hidden secret of his own.

Selene, who was in the first two sequels, comes back even fiercer in this non-stop action sequel as she searches for her Vampire tribe, the Death Dealers, who are secretly hiding underground. She finds the tribe and enlists the help of David (Theo James), the son of Vampire coven leader Thomas. As they battle Lycans and humans, Selene ferociously sucks the blood from a few necks, throws an astonishing number of knives and swords, attacks with guns blazing and leaps through the air higher than Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

In other words, don’t step on girlfriend’s toes if you value your life.  In a field crowded with testerone-fueled super heroes, it’s refreshing to watch a super heroine emerge who can kick butt with the best of them—a cool futuristic nod to female empowerment.

Beckinsale said she had a stunt coordinator on set who taught her how to use weapons, such as a sword, a knife and an ax. “Oddly enough, the one thing I felt comfortable with is the guns,” she said. “Before starring Underworld, I had never held a gun in my life.”

Beckinsale said that she did perform many stunts on her own, although there was a stunt double on set. “They really wanted me to actually perform  the stunts in the movie wherever possible,” she recalls. “I got pretty bruised doing the wirework, which is connected to a harness,” she laughed. “But I had wonderful teachers.”

Coming to the aid of Selene is Detective Sebastian (Michael Ealy) who eventually reveals to the warrior princess that his own wife was bitten by a Vampire. Sebastian and his wife kept her condition secret for two years until she was killed in one of the savage purges engineered by Antigen. Played with sympathetic gravity by Ealy, it is obvious that Sebastian is still haunted by her death as he quietly grapples with his personal tragedy.

Ealy said that upon first meeting Selene, they form an uneasy alliance.

“The first time I meet Kate’s character, she has a gun to my head,” Ealy reveals. “There’s a lot of tension between these two.  A lot of tension, based on my character’s past with her kind. So, you know, we don’t get along, we’re not buddies right away.” Despite the tension, Ealy teams up with Selene to secure the future of the Vampire race.

“Detective Sebastian represents the human element of the franchise,” said Ealy.  “It’s the first time there’s a human element and you see that Lycans and Vampires are living among us.”

The movie carries a cool, visual style and is bathed in dark, blue hues throughout. The special 3D effects are breathtaking, and the Lycans are so scary, you might spill your popcorn. Check out the epic battle between Selene and the genetically engineered uber-Lycan—a huge, 12-feet tall, 1,200 pound behemoth—the result of mankind’s experiments– that could definitely give King Kong a run for its money.

The question is which race will survive? Humans, Lycans, or Vampires?

Can somebody say sequel?  With $300 million generated worldwide by the franchise so far, the Underworld series will no doubt be thrilling movie goers for a long time to come.

“Underworld: Awakening,” Rated R, opens Friday, January 20, 2012.