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Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans review!Reviewed by Nomad

Starring Rhona Mitra, Billy Nighy, Michael Sheen, Kevin Grevioux

Directed by Patrick Tatopoulos


Prequels tend to be a hard sell and expectations are generally kept low for the outcome. This could be why there is very little buzz surrounding “>Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. What’s worse, we are talking about a story we’ve been listening to for two films. The outcome is inevitable. No twists are possible. The challenge is in the telling.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is the story of Viktor, whose ego and cruelty ignited a war that would last throughout the ages. It’s also the story of his daughter, Sonja, whose forbidden love would cause her to defy her father and whose death would forge a heart of vengeance in her lover. Finally, it’s the tale of Lucian, cursed from birth, enslaved to the will of vampire masters and destined to lead the Lycan race into a bloody future. It’s like West Side Story without the snappy music. It’s like Braveheart if William Wallace were hairy, toothy and monosyllabic. It’s like Lord of the Rings if they’d cheaped out on the battle scenes.

All joking and negativity aside, this movie is not bad at all. It’s clear a great deal of effort was put into creating a completely immersive world. All too often with medieval themed films, we are able to buy into their alternate reality when the characters are standing out in a forest but as soon as they enter a castle or village, shoddy sets shatter the illusion. Rise of the Lycans unfolds primarily within the confines of Viktor’s castle and the grounds contained by its walls. The signature blue tint is cast across every bit of film, making the already pale vamps seem otherworldly, shadows darker and creating an almost wet look on objects in most situations. Then we have costuming with no shortage of armors of metal and leather, distinguishing human from Lycan from vampire warrior to vampire royalty. No tunic and tights in several earth tones, ad nauseam, as you might expect!

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans pic!

And beheadings are what you get! The switch from bullets and explosives to swords and teeth turn every battle into a fantastic, bloody good time! Giant bolts fly through the air seeking a target to skewer. Werewolf teeth and claws make short work of plate armor and the frail vampire physique within. Not much of a meal there, so the results are messy. This is a double edged sword; while these battle scenes are thoroughly enjoyable and deliciously vicious, they lack the finesse of a lightning fast vampire that should have superhuman reflexes, strength and senses, a fact that rings out throughout the film. It seems anyone sneaky enough could tiptoe past vampire guards and all-powerful elders alike and even hold conversations on their demise in shouted tones and get away with it. Hell, Viktor’s own daughter is sexing up the bestial Lucian on an almost nightly basis, and not only are she and the slave able to slip past all prying eyes, but no one ever once says, “Hey Sonja, pardon me for saying, but you sure do smell like you are getting some Werewolf booty!”

Now, as is Hollywood tradition, we often expect the look of werewolves to be borderline abysmal and the transformation from human to beast something to flinch and turn away from out of embarrassment. I was highly impressed. I could describe these as almost McFarlane-style creatures with big, triangle heads atop sinewy, muscular frames ending in claws big enough to take a man’s head clean off. Quick cuts, zooms and shadow help to maintain the illusion. Even when we are allowed a glimpse of the wolves at rest, the look maintains and is something fans will love to pore over when this movie sees its Blu-ray release. They even dared show a transformation, head on, which practically had me applauding. These are the best looking werewolves I’ve seen in years. It even makes the small point of how Lucian always manages to find pants after transforming back to a human form completely bearable.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans reviewUnfortunately the same cannot be said for the ultra sexy Rhona Mitra, whose looks are marred by having to wear fangs in every scene, which pushed her upper lip out just enough to look like a botched botoxing. Shame on Patrick Tatopoulos, a director who should have known better.

To their credit, all actors involved pull off their roles beyond all expectations, fighting their way through inane dialogue, endless plot holes and often senseless actions, tooth and nail (pun intended) and even manage to achieve moments of true gut wrenching drama as befitting a classic tragedy. This completes your immersion in a world that could have been of an epic scale, but falls just short, coming off more like a small stage version of Lord of the Rings. That makes it no less enjoyable, but on a very basic level.

To be blunt, turning your brain off will greatly enhance the fun factor of this film. Those who wish to analyze the actions of the Underworld werewolf and vampire will find a fat little book’s worth of flaws. Those looking for a fast paced, beautifully shot medieval tragedy that never fails to deliver on the blood soaked action will find it all in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. For fans of down and dirty monster bashes, this should not be missed!

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3 1/2 out of 5

Discuss Underworld: Rise of the Lycans in the Dread Central forums!

Nomad

  • Rob

    Just got back from it. Had a fun time with it, which is more than what I can say when I saw Underworld: Evolution. I was able to look past all the plot holes and timeline inconsistencies and enjoy the solid acting and badass creature effects. Good stuff.

  • Didn’t See It Coming

    Thanks for setting the record straight about Selene not being human…I only the saw the movie once and I remember that…Shouldn’t a critic actually know what they’re talking about? Just saying.

    • Nomad

      Hey I watched the movie. Wasn’t clear to me and I wasn’t going to watch it again just to do a review for a prequel. Sue me.

  • elric300

    I’m looking forward to this.

    Yeah, the ending of EVOLUTION,which I had a lot of fun promoting, leaves the filmmakers with quite an epic to work out. I would think that Kate Beckingsale would be in such a sequel, and this is filling in in the meantime. But hey, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, and Rhona Mitra…I;’m there.

    Hmmm, maybe it’s time for me to finally unload all those left over UNDERWORLD:EVOLUTION shirts.

  • Johnny Butane

    I can’t remember a thing that happened in either of them, yet I’m anxious to see this one… weird. Probably the director and the fact that it’s all about the lycanthropes.

  • GivememoreBlood

    The vampires weren’t turned into humans. They became daywalkers.

    • The Woman In Black

      Thanks for clarifying — I couldn’t quite remember myself exactly what happened in Part 2.

      • Rob

        The whole ‘killing the head vampire’ thing was a lie started by Marcus to make sure Viktor never tried to conspire against him. The reason Selene was able to stand in the sunlight was because she drank some of Corvinus’ blood, so it made her an uber-vamp, so she was stronger and able to walk in sunlight. Although I still don’t think she should have been able to overpower Marcus so easily but that’s a whole other story.

        Which is the problem with making a direct sequel. Selene and her pet are too powerful now seeing as how all the Elders and William and Corvinus are dead; there’s no threat to them. The prequel was the right the way to go, or, if they want to make a sequel, set it in America and focusing on the American lycans and that coven trying to figure out what the hell all happened. Selene’s story is done, so they should leave it alone.

        And great review. I’m looking forward to the prequel. It’s great to see Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy in leading roles in this type of film.

        • Nomad

          Ohhhhh…that makes sense. Thanks! I’m seriously curious to see what other people think of the look of the wolves. Lucian’s look is different from the others to keep him identifiable I suppose.

          • Rob

            Lucian’s look is the first of the lycans, since he’s technically a second-generation werewolf after the wild ones, so it looks a little different and less lupine, as do any turned by him and so on and so forth. Though it seems like they tweaked the design of the wolves of the first film, adding on fur and making the ears and parts of the face more lupine. Whereas the wild ones are like William from the second film only dark-furred instead of white.

            And I myself love what I’ve seen of the werewolves in this one. Yeah, it’s CGI, but easily the best CGI werewolves made. Of course when your competition consists of Cursed and Van Helsing, not exactly a hard task to fulfill.

          • Nomad

            EXACTLY. I still think a full on werewolf movie would need some work done on the designs, but these are the best looking wolves we’ve seen in years.

        • GivememoreBlood

          Thanks for proving my point about her not becoming human. Most of the time in Vampire lore the kill the head vampire thing and turn back into human was true. It just wasn’t the case in this movie. It clearly states it. Not every movie has to follow the same vampire or werewolf guidelines. Think about all of the different ways that killing a vampire is proven or disproven in tons of vampire movies and tv shows.

    • Nomad

      Well…no. They killed the head vampire. That means everyone who was a vampire becomes human, doesn’t it?

  • Avid Fan

    Here’s to hoping that we’ll get to see vampires and werewolves fight like the beasts they are and not have more of that J. Woo gun play that makes zero sense with vampires and werewolves.