Movie Review - Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
By Matthew Huntley
February 2, 2009
Whether or not you're familiar with the Underworld franchise, Rise of the Lycans won't seem very important to you. The Underworld series has never been a masterpiece, but it's always had a distinguishable style and voracious energy, despite its lack of an original concept. This third film, which is actually the first story chronologically, doesn't answer any questions we couldn't have lived without or inferred from the previous installments. Ultimately, it's rather unnecessary.
At the beginning, we're told it's been two decades since the war started between the Vampires and the Lycans (a.k.a. werewolves). If you recall from the first two pictures, these two races are in a never-ending battle to rid the world of each other. Their mythology is more or less traditional - vampires are vulnerable to the sun and Lycans are unable to turn back into humans.
The head of the Vampire council, Viktor (Bill Nighy), would gladly have every last Lycan killed until he discovers one with the ability to return to human form. His name is Lucian (Michael Sheen), and rather than kill him at birth, Viktor decides to make him his own personal servant. He envisions an entirely yielding race of Lycans who would work for and protect the Vampire clan.
Lucian demonstrates considerable strength and prowess, which attracts the attention of Viktor's daughter, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), a warrior and Death Dealer (or Lycan hunter). A secret, star-crossed love affair develops between the two and in what may be one of the silliest and most amusing sex scenes ever filmed, Sonja and Lucian secretly meet atop the high walls of the vampire compound to make love. The look on Sonja's face when she's pinned against the mountain and the shot of Lucian pretending to fall off the edge are so ridiculous, their absurdity almost seems deliberate, but at least they pay off with a laugh.
Lucian tells Sonja of his plans to escape. He's made a key to unlock the silver collar around his neck, which prevents him from transforming into a werewolf. Sonja agrees to come with him and offers her spot on the council to Tanis (Steven Mackintosh), Viktor's right-hand man, in exchange for his aid. Of course, Viktor eventually finds out and a giant battle ensues between the Vampires and Lycans. Along with the two races' opposing natures, Lucian and Sonja's relationship fuels the war between Vampires and Lycans that carries over to the other Underworld films.
I'll admit watching Underworld: Rise of the Lycans provoked my interest in the original movie again. It might be fun to watch Rise of the Lycans and then proceed through the entire saga (Lycans actually ends with a shot of Selene [Kate Beckinsale] from the first movie). But even with that said, the movie didn't make me very excited. It's more or less standard action-horror fare, filled with several dark and incoherent action scenes. A lot of Vampires and Lycans get sliced and stabbed, but the cuts are so quick and loud, it's hard to tell where they're getting sliced or stabbed. The darkness and sound effects dominate and it's hard to tell exactly what's taking place.
The action isn't very original or innovative, either. It feels derived from other films like The Matrix and Lord of the Rings, with the usual swords, flips, jumps, etc., but none are put to rousing use. The movie fails to create a sense of rush to get viewers pumped up or anxious. And not that I expect much story from a movie called Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, I didn't particularly care about the plot or any of the relationships. I was never invested in the Lycans' cause or Lucian and Sonja's love. I'll give Michael Sheen credit for being likable and charismatic. The more movies he makes, the more he reveals himself to be a versatile actor able to completely transform himself (see The Queen and Frost/Nixon).
I'm not a huge fan or admirer of the Underworld series to begin with and Rise of the Lycans didn't make me any more of one. It's not painful to watch and it creditably held my interest, but there's not a whole lot to take away from it. Does the movie answer some of our outstanding questions from the series? I guess, but the problem is we weren't exactly yearning for the answers.