This is the visual aesthetic of Underworld: Awakening, the fourth movie in the vampires-versus-werewolves action franchise: A well-appointed operating theater in a lavishly funded lab is lit entirely with flickering fluorescent lights, such that everything looks dim, murky, and blue-black. It’s the exact same lighting scheme seen in a devastated parking garage after a huge battle later in the film, or for that matter, as the world outdoors, save for the flickering. That tedious, unimaginative sameness of texture and color extends throughout the rest of the film, and extends to all other aspects of the production: The story, the acting, the action choreography, and the direction all remain unvaried throughout. Watching the film is strangely like looking at the same three still frames of supernatural battles over and over for 90 minutes.
Either that, or like watching one of the Resident Evil movies again, or Ultraviolet, both of which Awakening seems to have looked to for basic plot points. Previous Underworld movies have mostly been distinguished by their curious devotion to intricate backstory, but all that goes out the window in Underworld: Awakening in favor of an utterly uncompelling McGuffin plot that lets Kate Beckinsale spend most of the film shooting, stabbing, or exploding CGI enemies. When the existence of werewolves and vampires becomes public knowledge, humanity launches a brutal pogrom against them. Beckinsale’s vampire assassin from the first two films and her hybrid vamp/wolf lover (previously played by Scott Speedman, who didn’t turn up for this installment, which works around him) wind up in a lab, where they spend more than a decade unconscious. When Beckinsale revives, she learns she now has a daughter, whom the werewolves want. So she fights her way out of the lab, fights to reach the girl, fights to protect the girl, and barely lets up ’til the final scene.
Swedish directorial partners Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein (taking over from Beckinsale’s husband Len Wiseman, who co-scripted and produced) have pretty much two thoughts in their heads regarding Underworld: Awakening: that Beckinsale looks good in a skin-tight suit and flowing black duster, particularly when she lands in a casual crouch after jumping from a great height, and that CGI werewolves roaring, leaping, and getting shot never gets old. But given the film’s barely pro forma plot and generic action, it obsolesces surprisingly quickly. Stephen Rea (as a cold-blooded lab head) and Michael Ealy (as a beleaguered detective) highlight the problem: Each explains the motives for their extreme and unlikely actions via a handful of halfhearted lines, then rushes back to the plodding battle. Only Beckinsale seems invested in her choices or the outcome, and her single facial expression can’t carry an entire film. When Awakening ends on a pause before a battle, setting up another sequel to come, it’s less a promise than a threat.