Vampires are supposed to be scary. If there is one thing that makes the Twilight movies suck, it is that they have forgotten that fact and made vampires into pasty-faced hunky dreamboats. Vampires prey on humans, they don’t date them. Last year the excellent Stakeland brought the horror back to the vampire genre and provided a bloody antidote to the Twilight barf-fest. Now Kate Beckinsale returns to the character and catsuit of vampire warrior-woman Selene for her third entry in the Underworld series (there is a prequel in which she does not appear, before anyone feels the need to point that out, so technically this is the fourth Underworld movie).
In the prologue, the existence of vampires and lycanthropes (werewolves) is exposed to the waking world, leading to a mass cull to rid humanity of their “infection”. Attempting to flee with her lover Michael, Selene is captured. When she wakes up in a laboratory, years later, she discovers the humans have been experimenting upon a child called Eve (India Eisley) who is a rare vampire-lycan hybrid and with whom Selene shares a strange bond. Selene takes Eve and goes on the run from the human authorities, determined to protect the girl from humans and lycans alike. They find an ally in vampire David (Theo James), all the while pursued by the forces of Antigen, led by Dr Lane (a sanguine Stephen Rea).
Man Marlind and Bjorn Stein take over the directorial duties and to their credit they have greedily embraced the horror elements of the franchise. If the first Underworld was gothic in tone and style, with gorgeous vamps languidly reclining in sprawling, gloomy mansions, Awakening is the industrial Underworld – a loud, pounding onslaught of a movie. The violence is aggressive, unrelenting and at times quite shocking – a shot of Eve being attacked by a werewolf is graphic and unsettling. However, this is no retrograde horror flick in which women are helpless before unstoppable male predators. The most dangerous character here is Selene, consumed by a maternal desire to protect Eve. Selene is far more ferocious than in the previous films and, unlike the appalling Edward in Twilight, she is not shy about sinking her fangs into a human’s jugular when she’s hungry. Beckinsale imbues Selene with an air of power and self-assurance. She is more dynamic than any of the men, a better fighter and, when matched against a larger, more powerful opponent, smarter.
It is arguable, of course, that Selene is a male fantasy construct – a beautiful image of an idealised female form but the character is never presented as being beholden to or defined by the men in her life. She has her own agenda and relies upon no-one but herself, unlike Bella “How can I make him love me?” Swan.
The movie looks tremendous on a big screen and the action scenes are ambitious and extremely well realised. In the first Underworld film, it was never entirely clear what made Selene special in her status as a Death Dealer who hunted werewolves. This time around, it is abundantly clear that Selene is lethal. The sequence in which she tears through a squad of human police is brutal and delivered with bombast and style. The battles with the lycans are bloody affairs, thrilling in their visceral impact, while the climactic showdown provides an almost deafening crescendo of mayhem. The stunt work is top notch, with cars being thrown around and a lovely shot in which Selene knocks over a moving van by charging into the side of it. She’s a bloodthirsty super-heroine who could punch Batman into next week.
There are some plot elements sure to raise a smirk – the humans hold Selene in captivity as a test subject but inexplicably decide to keep her distinctive catsuit, corset and boots in a cabinet close at hand so that moments after escape, Selene is back in her fetish gear. Beckinsale looks amazing but she does rather look like she’s on her way to a goth-industrial nightclub somewhere to spend the night dancing to Rammstein and Nine Inch Nails. Just as in all the films in the Resident Evil franchise, the ending leaves the door wide open for a sequel. If Beckinsale wants to get back in the catsuit again, I’ll be there. Bite me, Kate. Bite me hard.