I’ll be honest when I say that I never understood the appeal of the Underworld series. Watching Kate Beckinsale in skin tight leather and Bill Nighy acting all regal and shit are things I can understand the appeal of, but my problem with the series is in the basic conceit. If you have vampires and werewolves, why give them guns to kill each other with? By giving them each ammunition-based weapons, you take away almost everything that makes these mythical beings cool and turn them into excuses for Matrix and Equilibrium styled gun-fu. It never made much sense to me from the start, but I could see the appeal of it for one movie, anyway. We’ve finally come upon the release of the fourth, and handily worst, of the Underworld franchise. I think it’s time we just finally let it go.
Series creator Len Wiseman receives a story and screenwriting credit here (along with three other writers), but he’s not behind the camera for this lazy, cheap, and inept follow-up. Directorial duties fall to the pairing of Mans Marland and Bjorn Stein, who either don’t seem to know what movie they’re making or they simply don’t care. Of the cast, only Beckinsale returns, acting as gruff and pissed as always. It’s funny because so much emphasis in this film is placed on the character played by Scott Speedman in the first two movies, and he shows up on camera played by “OBVIOUSLY not Scott Speedman” with a face as cleverly obscured as Ed Wood’s dentist.
You see, the humans are trying to ethnically cleanse the world of vampires and lycans. Former vampire “death dealer” Selene (Beckinsale) and her lycan/halfbreed lover Michael (Digi-Speedman) are trying to escape when they are ambushed at a pier. Where they were hoping to escape to is never explored, but it raises an important question about the series I hadn’t thought of before. Is this the only city on Earth that has vampires and lycans? Is it just as simple to skip to Canada to get away from them? (Or in this case the States since it was so obviously done on one street and in two buildings in Vancouver)
Selene is captured by the evil head of Antogen labs, Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea, giving even less of a crap than usual in such a genre film). Lane has Selene on ice to try and extract a cure for vampirism, when someone mysteriously thaws her out and she escapes the facility with ease. She meets up with another vampire working undercover as a cop (Theo James) who explains to her that the remaining vampires are all living in secret and lycans are now reduced to being street rats scurrying through the night. They happen upon a small girl named Eve (India Eisley) who turns out to be the person who released Selene and just so happens to be, you guessed it, Selene and Michael’s daughter. The lycans want to get their hands on Eve for reasons that make absolutely no sense when the film attempts an explanation. I assume it has nothing to do with the fact that when she goes all vamp she looks like Boo Berry gone rabid.
I could harp on the plot a bit, but there’s no real sense in that. No one goes to these movies for the plot. What I will rail against is just how cheap and shoddily made this film is in comparison to its predecessors. I always thought the budget on every sequel – save for those going straight to DVD – went up. Here it’s about as rock bottom as one can get.
The same set is used for about three different locations, and the film only takes place in maybe a total of five places. Exterior locations are used over and over again without even trying to hide that they are something different other than some strobe effects in every single scene that make the whole movie feel like a light switch rave. Then there’s the car chase where it’s so painfully obvious they only shot on one street because the same two parking garages and scaffolding are in every single shot no matter how far they’ve seemingly traveled time wise.
This maddening lack of continuity follows through to little details, but that’s something none of these films could keep straight to begin with. Vampires and werewolves can seemingly be killed by anything someone can get their hands on. They really aren’t that immortal. Sometimes things that the movie expressly says CAN kill a vampire or lycan won’t do anything. Sometimes the beasts wear contacts, other times nothing. Sometimes regular bullets kill them. Sometimes not. Selene can tackle and throw a speeding van, but a single gun butt from a human can knock her on her ass. The contempt this movie has for the intelligence level of the audience is beyond belief.
Now some fans of the series might find that a bit offside. I assume most people see these movies for some cool gun action. Those fans will be disappointed with this one. There isn’t a single cool gunfight to be found. Everyone in this movie simply shoots straight ahead because it isn’t in the budget to do anything remotely cool. Even poor Michael Ealy (who God bless him, is trying in a role as a sympathetic human cop) gets to walk around with a huge gun, but everything he shoots is off screen. We see him make a witty remark, shoot, and then we have to wait to see the aftermath. That’s typical of pretty much every scene of gunplay in the movie. The only good scene of combat is a hand to hand one between Selene and a superwolf that really isn’t even all that great since the film can only afford to animate one part of the wolf at a time in each shot.
It all speeds through in a reasonable amount of time, leading to an obvious and crappy twist before setting up for yet another sequel. Now that all of the cast except Beckinsale have moved on and since it seems like there might be an even smaller budget on the next one, there really isn’t a good reason to keep this series going. Then again, this will probably make $30 million in its opening weekend since I doubt any real fans of the series will heed what I have to say here anyway. There’s a darn good reason why Underworld: Awakening wasn’t screened in advance for critics besides it being awful. It’s because the studio knows no fans of the series would listen to us in the first place.