Underworld: Awakening – The Return of Selene

If you have to choose between seeing Haywire and Underworld: Awakening, you should see Haywire. If you don’t have to choose, see both.

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.

4 thoughts on “Underworld: Awakening – The Return of Selene

  1. Nicole

    I love Selene and the Underworld films as a guilty pleasure but I became a bit put off of seeing the new one after Kate Beckinsale said her Selene action figure looked like a pre-op transsexual and thats why it didn’t sell well.

  2. Skye

    That is just horrifying.

    [Updated 2/1/12 to clarify, I meant it was horrifying that she said that. -Skye]

  3. Aaron

    I think I can clear up some of the diversity issues in this series. Contrary to apparent popular opinion, not all movies take place in America. Underworld 1 and 3 take place in Hungary, 2 takes place somewhere in Eastern Europe. Hungary’s population is over 92% Hungarian, and most of the minority are also white Europeans. That is Hungary today; I can just about guarantee you it was even less diverse hundreds of years ago.

    That said, most of the main characters in the first three movies SHOULD be white. Alexander, Marcus, and William were Hungarian warlords circa 400 AD. Viktor was another Hungarian warlord circa 1200 AD and Amelia was in his army. Selene, Lucian, and Soren were Hungarians from around 1400 AD. Aside from Kraven and Tanis (whose origins we don’t know), virtually every major white character has a solid reason for being white by virtue of being Dark Age to early Renaissance Hungarians.

  4. Skye

    @ Aaron, thanks for your comment. I get the feeling that we’re going to disagree, so I appreciate in advance that you were so polite.

    I don’t get very far with the contention that movies about vampires and werewolves have to be almost completely white in their cast, to be historically accurate to time and place. It’s werewolves and vampires. I’m not saying that means let’s make a movie set in modern-day Hungary overwhelmingly Latino and Asian, but I do believe fantasy films have a little more wiggle room than they often take. I didn’t notice anyone running out of the film because their suspension of disbelief was horribly damaged from Kevin Grevioux showing up even in the third film, the ages-ago one that had more of an excuse for being pasty in cast.

    As for the Alexander, Marcus, William, Selene, Lucian, and Soren — let’s remember that the filmmakers chose to give them these pasts, and make them the main characters. Again, I’m not saying we have to stop making all films that feature a predominantly white cast. But let’s also not pretend that this somehow fell out of the sky into the filmmaker’s laps and there was nothing they could do. By the time of the first and second films, even with the setting, modern transportation had been around for a while and people have been moving around.

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