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My Review Of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

January 28, 2009

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Yeah, I know there are a lot of Oscar-Nominated films I could have gone and seen last weekend, but I wanted to see werewolves and vampires rip each other to pieces. Is that so wrong?! In any event, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans precedes the first two films, taking place in some non-descript European country during medival times. The story centers around Lucien (Michael Sheen, aka Kate Beckinsale’s “baby daddy”), the lycan leader from the first film. Here, he’s essentially an indentured servant to the vampires, led by Viktor (Bill Nighy in top scenery-chewing form, if I may say so). Whereas the first generation of werewolves (aka lycans) were especially savage and unable to revert back into humans, Lucien was clearly different. He had almost all the strengths of a werewolf without needing to fully change. Realizing he could use Lucien to his advantage, Viktor bred an entire race of immortals to serve as slaves and protectors. Lucien seems to have no problems with the vampires, despite the silver-spiked collar he has to wear around his neck to discorage him from going all beasty. He even falls in love with one. . . . too bad she just so happens to be Viktor’s daughter, Sonja (Rhona Mitra). As you can imagine, Viktor isn’t too happy about it, and a freakin’ war breaks out between the vampires and lycans.

I’ve enjoyed all the Underworld movies, and it was certainly a smart move for the filmmakers to take things back before the events of the first film; we see the dedication Lucien shows towards Viktor and the other vampires, and how he sees himself as being different from the more savage werewolves that came before him. But most importantly, we see how everything changes. Clearly, Lucien struggles with his desire to be a free man, but also his loyalty to Viktor. He knows well enough that he’d never be seen as an equal among the vampires, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling betrayed by Viktor as events unfold. And who can blame him? Viktor is a dick. Just about everything this man does is for a selfish reason. Going all the way back to the first film, Viktor has hidden behind the excuse of  “protecting the vampire race” to justify lies, torture, slavery, and slaughtering humans indiscriminantly, and Rise of the Lycans further puts this into perspective. Essentially, Viktor is a nazi.

Tying back to my enjoyment of the story, is the return of Michael “How many more times do I have to play Tony Blair?” Sheen and Bill Nighy. Sheen is great because he he ignores the stigma of the action/horror genre, and just plays the role as straight as he would any other film. You sympathize with Lucien. Nighy is great because he handles the material with such hamfisted self-awareness that it serves as a great counterbalance to Sheen. There’s a lot of Shakespearean melodrama when it comes to Viktor as a character, and I love Nighy’s fearlessness in running with it. It’s amazing because in several scenes, it’s hilarious to see him go so over the top. In other scenes, he has this whole quiet poise, and treats the film like a stage performance. As Sonja, Rhona Mitra isn’t quite as commanding as Kate Beckinsale, but she does handle her role adequately, and is quite fierce in many of the action scenes she’s featured in. I also thought she had a nice chemistry with Sheen, even during a rather ridiculous love scene in which Sonja straddles Lucien, pinning his lower body down, while his upper body hangs precariously over the edge of a cliff! I guess sex has to be that much more exciting when you can’t die! And lest I forget, the inhumanly deep-voiced Kevin Grevioux (co-creator of the Underwold franchise) returning as Raze. I liked seeing his friendship develop with Lucien, as the first film merely presented him more or less as just a big henchman.

Another strength to the film is that it’s easier to accept the concept in more of a medival/fantasy setting, than the slick, post-modern sci-fi trappings of the first two films. You can play with the drama of it more, and create a more cohesive and involving story. That isn’t to say there isn’t a lot of action. Some of it is even better than the other films. Fight scenes are a little tighter, and don’t come off so choreographed. And much like the second film, Rise of the Lycans takes full advantage of being R rated. Several scenes depict lycans and vampires ripping each other’s limbs apart, eating faces off, blood splattering in all directions, etc. We still don’t see a lot of neck biting from the vampires, though. Given the time period, young buxom peasent girls should have practically been raining from the heavens, solely for purpose of having their blood sucked by geriatric-looking  Shakespearean vampires!

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans clearly isn’t winning any Oscars, but dammit if it’s not fun. There’s actually more of a story this time around, and they manage to present that story without sacrificing action. A lot of credit is due to first-time director Patrick Tatopoulos (who’s done creature effects for all the Underworld films). Despite some emulation of previous director, Len Wiseman’s directing style, Tatopoulos has his own distinct eye for visuals and creating a solid narrative. Usually effects men switching over to direct can have disastrous results. Starship Troopers 2, anyone?

(3.5 out of 5)

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One comment

  1. It was a pretty good movie.



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