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!
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.
Unfortunately 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!
3 1/2 out of 5
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