The Big Picture
- The romance between Selene and Michael is what sets Underworld apart from other action/horror films and gives it a unique angle.
- The chemistry between Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman is intense, creating a strong sense of sexual tension throughout the film.
- The romance between Selene and Michael fuels the rest of the Underworld franchise, but the absence of Michael in later films leaves them feeling empty.
When Underworld first debuted in 2003, it had all the makings of a cult classic. The idea of pitting vampires against werewolves was a novel one, especially since both creatures were staples of the horror genre. Director Len Wiseman, alongside Danny McBride and Kevin Grevioux, built out a mythology that was enough to sustain five films alongside an animated anthology and a handful of comic books. Anchoring the entire enterprise was Kate Beckinsale, whose compelling performance as the vampire Selene places her among Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley in terms of enduring action heroines.
But one element above all else makes Underworld a standout in the realm of action/horror films: The romance between Selene and Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman). Selene and Michael’s relationship is the driving force behind the Underworld films and gives them a unique angle beyond the copious amount of bloodshed and supernatural elements. In fact, if it weren’t for this relationship, Underworld may have fallen into the cultural gutter.
‘Underworld’s Romantic Elements Are Backed By the Chemistry Between Kate Beckinsale & Scott Speedman
When Underworld first starts, Selene and Michael are in two different worlds. As a Death Dealer, she hunts and exterminates Lycans on the orders of the vampire society she works for. Michael is a medical student who gets swept into the world of the supernatural when the Lycans start hunting him down. This draws Selene into the fray, and she soon learns a startling truth: Michael is descended from the Corvinus bloodline, which connects vampires and Lycans. Thus, the race is on, as the Lycans consider Michael their greatest weapon against the vampires while the vampires are willing to kill him in order to remove him as a threat.
From its opening sequence, Underworld focuses on the romantic underpinnings between Selene and Michael. Selene happens to catch a glimpse of Michael when he’s catching the subway, and the normally unflappable Death Dealer seems stricken by this mortal man. Beckinsale and Speedman have an intense chemistry, to the point where you can feel the waves of sexual tension rippling between them when they’re in the same room. This culminates in a scene where Selene has to bite Michael to save his life — unlike most vampire biting scenes, this one is tender, and has a romantic undercurrent to it. The budding relationship between Selene and Michael also mirrors the one that the werewolf Lucian (Michael Sheen) once had with the vampire Sonja; this forbidden union led to the war between vampires & Lycans, and was further expanded upon in the prequel film Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.
‘Underworld’s Romance Was Inspired By One of Its Writers’ Backgrounds
The origins of Underworld actually mirror one of its writers’ backgrounds. Kevin Grevioux drew a fair amount of inspiration from Romeo and Juliet while helping to co-write the screenplay. He also looked back at his time studying biology and chemistry to approach the way vampires and werewolves were portrayed within the Underworld universe. Instead of being created via supernatural means, both vampires and werewolves carry a different strain of a virus that grants them their abilities. The idea of a scientifically-inspired vampire had already been tackled in Blade, but Underworld helped popularize the subgenre and gave life to a new breed of supernatural action/horror films — including I, Frankenstein (Grevioux would write the graphic novel of the same name that the film was based on).
When watching Underworld, it isn’t difficult to see the way that Romeo and Juliet seeped into its narrative. Selene and Michael are star-crossed lovers, each belonging to different sides of a warring faction. Both are drawn to each other in spite of this conflict. Both also suffer heavily for their love: Michael is experimented upon, while Selene has to deal with the vampire leader Kraven (Shane Brolly), who covets her despite the fact that she’s repulsed by him. Thankfully, Selene and Michael’s story has a far better ending than Romeo and Juliet’s, as they manage to slaughter the forces that oppose them and go on the run together. They’re both also technically dead due to Selene’s vampire nature and Michael becoming a vampire/Lycan hybrid in the film’s climax — no need for a melodramatic suicide scene.
Selene and Michael’s Romance Fuels the Rest of the ‘Underworld’ Franchise
Underworld became a surprise box office hit, which allowed Weisman, McBride & Grevioux to carry on their plans for a film trilogy. “From the very start, Len and I were interested in creating an Underworld trilogy,” McBride said when discussing the future of the franchise following the first film. In 2006, Underworld: Evolution was released. Three years later, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans would expand upon the past sequences in the first Underworld — and the tragic romance that led to the vampire/Lycan war. Evolution pushes the romance angle even further, as Selene and Michael consummate their relationship following a high-octane chase scene. It’s a slow, sizzling sequence that builds upon the events of the first film, as well as Beckinsale and Speedman’s chemistry. Rise of the Lycans is even more tragic than the two films that precede it; it reveals that the Lycans were slaves to the vampires, and expands on the sequence from the first movie where Lucian is forced to watch as Sonja is burned alive in front of him.
The fourth film, Underworld: Awakening, delivers a bittersweet note to the Selene/Michael romance. Selene is awakened after a cryogenic sleep where she learns that both vampires and werewolves are being hunted by the government. She also discovers that she and Michael had a daughter, Eve, who inherited her father’s hybrid abilities. Sadly, Speedman chose not to return as Michael, and his absence can be felt throughout the film. Michael was an important part of Selene’s life; wouldn’t it have made more sense to have him appear in some capacity? Without the romance that fueled the first two films, Awakening and its sequel Underworld: Blood Wars felt rather empty. If Underworld receives a reboot in the future, those creative parties behind it would do well to remember the romance at the heart of the series, and what would be lost if it isn’t included in some way.