If there’s one fair thing to say about Underworld: Awakening from the outset, it is that it cannot muster lower expectations than the last film, Rise of the Lycans, which not only saw lead Kate Beckinsale duck out, but also series helmer – and Beckinsale’s hubby – Len Wiseman. This superfluous fourth entry is at least graced with the presence of a returning Beckinsale, but with a script demonstrating this much contempt for its audience, how much does her PVC-clad swagger really count for?
Following in the footsteps of perfunctory sequels like Blade: Trinity, Awakening mixes supernatural in-fighting with an ever-so-slightly more grounded tale of the humans coming to learn that vampires and Lycans are in fact very real. As a summary holocaust of the creatures begins, vampire Selene (Beckinsale), who has escaped a cryogenic storage facility, has to come to terms with the fact she now has a young hybrid daughter, Eve (India Eisley), who was conceived with vampire/Lycan hybrid Michael (Scott Speedman), now presumed dead.
As if recognising its own shrewdness as a pointless sequel, Awakening is at least acceptably brief, barely running to 80 minutes minus credits. Those acquainted with the previous entries will find little of surprise here; yes, there’s a lack of regard for human life that is both troubling and curious, and of course, like the last Underworld film Beckinsale starred in, there are strategically-staged scenes of her wearing very little, before donning the signature PVC catsuit to do battle in a series of weightless, over-occupied action scenes.
While Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein’s résumés hardly provide hope they might froth up the franchise (having co-helmed one of 2010′s worst films, Shelter), they are competent enough hacks and therefore deliver a style consistent with the previous films, albeit overactive and utterly unfussed. The real problem comes with the script, which revolves far too much around Selene’s lover Michael, troublesome primarily because Scott Speedman has no involvement in this sequel beyond his likeness, which is poorly plastered onto body doubles by way of shockingly tacky visual effects in two scenes.
A focus on the more human side of the equation – reflected by Michael Ealy’s banal detective sympathiser character – could have injected some much needed life into the series, but it really just exchanges one boring, repetitive premise for another. Stephen Rea is meanwhile probably the most compelling character, as a scientist looking to find a cure to Lycanthropy after it caused the death of his son. Still, the film never lingers long on these moments nor finds a way to convey them ably through its hackneyed action aesthetic. Charles Dance meanwhile tries his menacing best as, Thomas, the belligerent leader of a coven, but the script’s unwillingness to throw him – or anyone, including the director – a bone, renders his efforts fairly moot.
Selene slices her way through hallways of faceless guards, and while this is fine, the film takes on a more troubling tone as she mercilessly murders relatively reasonable humans. One character – played incredulously by a talented young actor whose work was uncredited – in effect allows Selene to escape her prison early on, only to be dropped to his death by her moments later, not before she can let out a “witty” quip, of course. That the film neither approaches the soupy morality of Selene’s ruthlessness nor aptly conveys her disconnect with the human race makes these moments seem disturbingly nihilistic when splayed over a frenetic action film formula.
While it’s not too surprising that the emotional machinations are shallowly dealt with, despite firm potential for Selene to demonstrate a Ripley-esque nurturing side with her child, the real disappointment is the inept construction of many of the action scenes, largely due to poor lighting, used to mask ropey visual effects which, when seen in clear light, resemble the blurry messes referred to as werewolves in the Twilight films. The second the wolves move, they are rendered near-incomprehensible, as is the 3D effect as a result.
It all leads to an inexplicable non-payoff revolving around Michael’s absence, with his spectre lingering only to facilitate another arbitrary sequel should the film ignite at the box office. Hopefully next time the filmmakers will throw enough cash Scott Speedman’s way so that they won’t have to resort to these cheap tactics to distend their hokey mythology. This is a tragic sequel which dirties itself further by wasting talented actors like Wes Bentley, Charles Dance and Stephen Rea.
Underworld: Awakening is out now in cinemas.