Two action films headlined by women opening in one weekend. WHY DOESN’T THIS HAPPEN MORE OFTEN?!
I have big love for Selene, the vampire Death Dealer from the first and second Underworld films. The second film was kind of a mess plot-wise, and the third was a complete train wreck in which Rhona Mitra was tragically misused, but oh, the first one… it has my heart. And I have been waiting for Selene to come back for a long, long time.
In Underworld: Awakening, she does come back. There’s a war on, but this time it’s s different one. Humans have discovered both vampires and werewolves, and they’re executing all of the “infected.” We get a taste of Selene’s full power in the first few minutes of the film as she fights her way through human assault teams to reach her lover, Michael, at a getaway boat… and then things go wrong.
I hadn’t read a lot about the film beforehand, so I got a few pleasant surprises. African-American actor Michael Ealy plays Detective Sebastian, a cop who suspects there’s more to this Lycan thing than someone’s admitting. (And the filmmakers don’t do that thing that filmmakers like to do with the one black guy, so I was pleased.) Sandrine Holt, whose father is Chinese (and who played the reporter in Resident Evil: Apocalypse) plays a female scientist… who has less sense than my dog and is a complete gender stereotype, but at least she has lines.
And then, hold the phone, there are actually TWO female action roles in this film! India Eisley plays an unnamed-in-the-film teenager who rips a werewolf’s head in half with her hands. Which is pretty damn useful if werewolves are chasing you. Selene and unnamed girl (who grew up in a research lab, hence the lack of name) have quite a few conversations that aren’t about men, unless you deem all conversations about the male werewolves chasing you to be about men.
By the way, if anyone can tell me why all the werewolves are men, that would be swell. I’ve sat through four movies now and I still don’t have a good answer. (And where are the vampires who like light colors and modern home decor? The vampire virus changes your personality to goth, or they just go along to get along?) I also don’t know why we’ve spent several films building up sympathy for the werewolves as wronged by the vampires, then we throw all that away here and they’re all evil.
Bad things? Well, I could have lived without having Selene naked except for strategically placed mist, right near the beginning of the film. It didn’t make any sense for Kate Beckinsale’s character in Whiteout, and it doesn’t make much more sense here. It’s also incongruous with how Selene was treated in the first film. Boo.
My esteemed viewing companion was not impressed with how the film held together, or how much Selene got “thrown around like a rag doll.” His first example: “She can jump off a building, but she gets hit by a truck and it lays her out?” To which I responded “But she planned to jump off the building. The truck was not a planned move. And she lay in the street for about 30 seconds and then got up and kicked ass.” He was wrong, I was right, I won, and then we finished eating dinner with our four year old son who wanted to know why all the werewolves were evil.
I also think that it’s fine for Selene to be a little disoriented and not at full strength after being held captive for an extended period of time. She gets her game back together. But the film does feel more ragged than the first one, less fluid, and Selene is less of an unstoppable force than an outnumbered warrior fighting for her life against some really bad shit. I was okay with that difference in tone.
It has been really hard to write this without spoilers. Just so you know.
I can’t give it four stars, because it doesn’t rise to the iconic level of the other four star picks, even with two heroines and finally some diversity in casting for this series. I want to give it four stars on Heroine Content grounds, but if I made a list of the films I was most in love with that I could call Greatest Hits with complete certainty, this would just not make the cut. It is, however, a Very Strong Contender. Lacking a 3.5 stars rating, I give it 3 stars.
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.