Directed by: Patrick Tatopoulos
Starring: Michael Sheen, Rhona Mitra, Bill Nighy, Steven Mackintosh, Kevin Grevioux
Rated: R for bloody violence and some sexuality.
Parental Notes: This is not a kids movie. There’s plenty of violence and gore, including graphic scenes of people being beaten with a metal-tipped whip and being cut open with swords.
“Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” is about what you’d expect: this prequel to the middlingly-successful “Underworld” and “Underworld: Evolution” tells the story of the Lycan’s revolt against their vampire masters, and of the relationship between Lucian, who eventually rules the Lycans, and Sonja, daughter of vampire leader Viktor. This isn’t great art, nor is it trying to be. It’s a bit short on fight scenes for my tastes, but if you’re a fan of the series or have enjoyed the previews it’s probably worth seeing.
Like the other films in the franchise, the story is straightforward on the surface but incredibly convoluted if you delve deeper. It’s some time in the middle ages and vampires rule the night, with the werewolf-like Lycans as their slaves and daytime guardians. When Lucian (Michael Sheen) falls in love with Sonja (Rhona Mitra), the daughter of the head vampire (the delightful Bill Nighy), the whole setup comes tumbling down. The Lycans get it in their heads that they should be free, and with Sonja helping Lucian, a revolt gets started.
The “Underworld” franchise has a complex and fairly well-thought-out mythology behind it, and it’s interesting to see some of that acted out. As in the other films, we have a blend of politics, action, and horror, with some undead Romeo-and-Juliet romance thrown in for good measure. Unlike the other films, however, this one is pure grunge. The vampires have some class to them, but all the settings and most of the people are filthy, from start to finish, presumably because this takes place in the middle ages. It’s a bit odd to see vampires wearing plate mail and fighting with longswords and crossbows in a franchise which previously featured high tech weaponry in the hands of its undead combatants, but the change of pace is interesting.
Sheen continues to be worth watching as Lucian, and it’s a bit amusing to watch him morph into a giant wolf-man and back, chew scenery, and get covered in blood while two screens over at the same multiplex he’s prim and pristine as British Journalist David Frost in the award-winning “Frost/Nixon.” Nighy continues to look born to play the undead as Viktor, and stalks around chewing some scenery of his own while imperiously ignoring the plot holes that surround him.
In fact, everyone conveniently ignores the numerous plotholes and unanswered questions in “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” — though complaining about things like a villain’s numerous untaken opportunities to kill a hero seems unsporting when the film in question is basically a popcorn movie. This is not a thought-provoking, intellectual masterpiece. It’s a b-movie horror flick. As that, it succeeds. There’s plenty of blood, a fair amount of fighting, some sex, and several very pretty people. It’s not the best of its kind, but it’s a fun way to kill an hour and a half if you’ve a taste for vampire/werewolf conflict.