Underworld: Awakening was #1 at the box office last weekend, taking in $25 million with no advance promotional screenings and a marketing campaign consisting mostly of nonstop carnage and lingering shots of a leather/PVC/whatever-clad Kate Beckinsale wriggling through air shafts like a sexy xenomorph. Truly a winning combination.
It was likely Beckinsale's return to the franchise (she sat out 2009's Rise of the Lycans) that aided the movie's opening performance. And the stepping down of franchise director (and Mr. Beckinsale) Len Wiseman (he's finishing up work on the Total Recall remake, because there are still a couple movies from the '80s and '90s they haven't gotten to yet) in favor of rookie Swedes Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein. In fact, Beckinsale supplanted another of her movies, Contraband, in the top spot.
And it was perhaps no coincidence that the run-up to U:A's opening also saw some of the first promos for Resident Evil: Retribution. Not because RE:R is close to opening (September 14, according to IMDb), but because something of a competition has arisen between the two franchises and their supporters.
I mean, there's a Facebook group and everything.
The series appear similar at first glance. Both feature svelte females using kung fu and an impressive array of weaponry to defeat supernatural foes (Selene fights vampires and werewolves, Alice takes on zombies and mutants). And on a side note, both actresses are married to the directors who helmed the initial offerings of the series (Milla Jovovich is married to Paul W.S. Anderson, Beckinsale to Wiseman). That sort of thing tends to help your film career, I'm told.
But in actual look and feel, these franchises are quite different. The Underworld movies take place in a permanently blue color-corrected nightworld of sensuous vampires, brutal "lycans" and -- until this movie anyway -- largely clueless human beings. Meanwhile, Resident Evil is set in the postapocalyptic zombie wasteland so recently overpopularized, yet was actually one of the early adopters of the genre (the first PlayStation game came out in 1996).
The Underworld movies are also more standalone in nature, and while some characters and subplots touch on the different movies, the first three were (barely) held together by the loose "war against the lycans" theme. The RE films, on the other hand. sort of meander through Alice's five-movies-long attempt to bring down the sinister Umbrella Corporation.
And then there's the setting. As mentioned earlier, Selene moves through a shadowy Goth nightworld of hot undead beef/cheesecake, firing thousands of bullets and usually getting tastefully drenched by the omnipresent rain. Alice ranges from blasted cityscape to blasted cityscape, occasionally detouring through a desert or medical laboratory. And while Selene is rarely seen without her full-body black PVC getup, Alice has fought in everything from evening wear to a towel to a hijab.
The Resident Evil franchise is also refreshingly free of romantic distractions. I think the closest thing Alice ever had to a boyfriend was Matt from the first movie, who was rewarded for his affections by getting turned into the hulking Nemesis in Apocalypse. I say "refreshingly" because few things take your last-stand-for-humanity zombie epics off the rails like a love story. We can't say the same about the Underworld flicks, as Selena has been mooning over the infuriatingly bland vamp-lycan hybrid Michael for four goddamn movies now.
But both heroines are pretty evenly matched. Each has super strength and speed (Selene courtesy of her vampirism, Alice's thanks to the T-virus) and both appear pretty evenly matched in ass-kicking abilities. What it comes down to ultimately for me is the overall tone for each movie. The Underworld flicks are understandably grim, as vampires and werewolves are notoriously humorless species. But worse than that, the movies all have a predictable A-to-B plot that guides each film. Inhuman hybrids and thousand-year wars aside, they're pretty straightforward.
Resident Evil, on the other hand, is just completely bugfuck. I confess, aside from the continuing effort against Dr. Isaacs and Umbrella, I rarely have any idea what the hell is going on. What was the point of the laser defense grid in the first movie? Why does Jill Valentine feel the best way to combat zombies is in a miniskirt and tube top? Did Alice really set birds on fire...with her mind? Hell, this scene (from Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the second in the series) sealed the deal for me:
How can you not love that? Look, as much as I support any vampire that doesn't sparkle or wear Abercrombie & Fitch, I have to declare my allegiance to Team Alice. And like RE's legions of brain-dead walking corpses, I'll be there in September to cheer her on.
And check it, they even kept the same fake advertisement theme.
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