Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Movie Information

The Story: Tired of being abused by their oppressors, werewolves revolt against their vampire masters. The Lowdown: More of the same from this franchise -- only decked out in prequel form. If you liked the first two, fine. If not, this isn't likely to convert you.
Score:

Genre: Horror
Director: Patrick Tatopoulos
Starring: Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra, Steven Mackintosh, Kevin Grevioux
Rated: R

When I saw the original Underworld back in 2003, I had some confusion as to what a “lycan” was: Merely hearing the term rather than seeing it written down, I thought they were talking about lichens. What, I wondered, did vampires have against this relatively benign fungus? Well, now, of course, I know that it’s some form of role-playing-game or modern-fantasy speak for lycanthrope or werewolf. They say that knowing is half the battle. In the case of this particular series of CGI-heavy horror pictures, the other half is trying to stay awake. In this regard, I did find Underworld: Rise of the Lycans slightly less soporific than Underworld: Evolution (2006). The fact that this one is about a quarter of an hour shorter may or may not be a factor, since the second film was about that much shorter than the first. If the series progresses in this manner, it will represent a great savings in time before long.

Rarely is a movie so exactly “what you would expect” as Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. It is a prequel to Underworld, meant to illustrate just how the great antipathy between the quasi-civilized vampires and the barbaric lycans came about in the first place. It mostly comes down to the vampires enslaving and abusing the werewolves to the point where one of their number, Lucian (Michael Sheen)—the most civilized of his breed—leads his brother lycanthropes in revolt against their masters. This Spartacus 101 plot isn’t sufficient in itself, so we also have a forbidden romance between Lucian and the vampire Sonja (Rhona Mitra, Doomsday), daughter of the big cheese of vampiredom, Viktor (Bill Nighy). This, of course, is intended to foreshadow his romance with Selene (Kate Beckinsale) in the first film. There is also much court intrigue and, of course, it’s all bathed in that dull monochromatic blue-color scheme that defines the look of the series.

How well does it really line up with the first two films? Someone far fonder of the Underworld franchise than I am will have to answer that. With the exception of a one-line reference to the character of William, I doubt that a newcomer to the series would have any difficulty following the plot. In any case, it fits together enough that a little voice-over work and a clip of La Beckinsale from the first movie somewhat clunkily does the rest. Beckinsale watchers, however, should take note that apart from this they’re stuck with Rhona Mitra as bargain-basement Beckinsale.

Overall, the movie isn’t without its entertainment value—of the sillier kind, which in the cases of Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy may be intentional. Sheen plays Lucian with an amusing pop-eyed intensity that is certainly entertaining, if not particularly believable. Nighy, on the other hand, brings the kind of faux gravity to the role of Viktor that only an actor of his ability could. That he also invests the performance with moments of shameless, over-the-top camp indicates that he knows full well that he’s a sufficiently formidable screen presence to get away with such. One does wonder, though, why such a silky and civilized villain can’t manage to drink a goblet of blood without it running down his chin.

In the main, the screenplay—by series veteran Danny McBride and newcomers Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain—is a muddled jumble of slaves-in-revolt clichés and strange notions about werewolves (by definition a werewolf is part man, part wolf or a human in wolf form, so it’s puzzling how Lucian’s kind can be a new form of werewolf). The characters are the usual run of busty babes in leather and unhygienic, greasy-haired guys who must spend a lot of time working out. The effects work is generally of the more cartoonish CGI variety, meaning it’s slick but looks exactly like what it is and is never in the least scary. Then again, neither were the first two films, so this may be seen as upholding tradition. Rated R for bloody violence and some sexuality.

SHARE
About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

28 thoughts on “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

  1. Dionysis

    The main reason I saw the first two films of this series was to ogle the leather-clad Kate Beckinsale. No Kate to ogle, no interest in this film. Yes, it’s a shallow reason, but good enough for me.

  2. Sean Williams

    Not intentionally or knowingly.

    I, for one, am intensely grateful.

    See, I know that G.I. Joe didn’t originate the phrase; I just figured you were gearing up for the cinematic bowel movement that is Rise of Cobra.

    There’s another fad you and I blessedly avoided by virtue of the years in which we were born. Call me intolerant, but I’m instinctively distrusting of people who’s childhood nostalgia involves either anime or television shows based on lines on action figures — in other words, anyone born after 1980.

    Anyways, be thankful you’re not a member of the nerd community; you’d have learned the term “lycan” a lot earlier — and from people who actually insist they exhibit mythical lyconthropy. The only appropriate response to such persons is F.Y.I.A.D.: “Forget you, I’m a dragon!” (“Forget” is not precisely the word, if you take my meaning.)

  3. Sean Williams

    Not intentionally or knowingly.

    I, for one, am intensely grateful.

    See, I know that G.I. Joe didn’t originate the phrase; I just figured you were gearing up for the cinematic bowel movement that is Rise of Cobra.

    There’s another fad you and I blessedly avoided by virtue of the years in which we were born. Call me intolerant, but I’m instinctively distrusting of people whose childhood nostalgia involves either anime or television shows based on lines on action figures — in other words, anyone born after 1980.

    Anyways, be thankful you’re not a member of the nerd community; you’d have learned the term “lycan” a lot earlier — and from people who actually insist they exhibit mythical lyconthropy. The only appropriate response to such persons is F.Y.I.A.D.: “Forget you, I’m a dragon!” (“Forget” is not precisely the word, if you take my meaning.)

  4. Ken Hanke

    Funny thing is I did have a G.I. Joe — with 21 moveable parts — but I never saw the show. Then again (as I confessed elsewhere), I also covered my G.I. Joe with tinfoil and stop-frame animated him as a giant (and rather crumpled) robot.

    And most of my friends — at least younger ones — seem to be members of the “nerd community,” though none of them claim actual lycanthropic abilities. Some of them play some card game called Magic, I believe, and it riles them up no end if I walk past and say, “Gotta catch ‘em all.” So of course I do it whenever possible.

  5. brebro

    “The main reason I saw the first two films of this series was to ogle the leather-clad Kate Beckinsale.”

    If there is room on the shallow end for one more, I confess to belonging there as well.

  6. Ken Hanke

    If there is room on the shallow end for one more, I confess to belonging there as well.

    Shallow is fine, so long as you don’t dress it up with excuses about artistic merit.

  7. T.H.X. Pijonsnodt, Esq.

    Are you implying, sirrah, that the beloved Underworld series is without artistic merit? Need we come to fisticuffs eftsoon?

  8. Ken Hanke

    Are you implying, sirrah, that the beloved Underworld series is without artistic merit? Need we come to fisticuffs eftsoon?

    If one must be berated, it’s a pleasure to have it done in this manner.

  9. “The main reason I saw the first two films of this series was to ogle the leather-clad Kate Beckinsale.”

    If there is room on the shallow end for one more, I confess to belonging there as well.

    Why settle on leather when you can see her naked in UNCOVERED?

  10. Ken Hanke

    Why settle on leather when you can see her naked in UNCOVERED?

    Now, there’s a man with his priorities under control.

  11. Ken Hanke

    Perhaps Rotten Tomatoes’ “Tomislav P.” is our “T. Pijonsnodt”? If not, we have to accept the fact that there are two Croats with the initials T.P. who lambaste movie critics with lines from Kublai Kahn. I doubt if even the all-encompassing internet is large enough for that!

    There does seem a marked similarity. Then again, if there’s any place on God’s earth that needs its literacy level raised, it’s comments section of Rotten Tomatoes.

  12. Dionysis

    “Why settle on leather when you can see her naked in UNCOVERED?”

    Hmmm, I missed that one. I thought the only film with her au natural was The Haunted.

  13. Dionysis

    “If there is room on the shallow end for one more, I confess to belonging there as well.”

    I get the sense there is plenty of room in the shallow end of the pool. The water’s fine!

  14. Dread P. Roberts

    Why settle on leather when you can see her naked in UNCOVERED?

    I thought the only film with her au natural was The Haunted.

    The MountainX blogging community is certainly more educational than other blogging sites. I’m glad to see that people have their priorities in proper order.

    I get the sense there is plenty of room in the shallow end of the pool. The water’s fine!

    Just watch out for ‘warm spots’.

  15. Hmmm, I missed that one. I thought the only film with her au natural was The Haunted.

    Nope. She’s got short hair, but it’s an early role for her.

  16. The MountainX blogging community is certainly more educational than other blogging sites. I’m glad to see that people have their priorities in proper order.

    Just for the record, I did NOT bring this subject up! However, celebrity nudity is a specialty of ours… mainly due us stocking customer requests.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Just for the record, I did NOT bring this subject up! However, celebrity nudity is a specialty of ours… mainly due us stocking customer requests.

    Marc, you see, is as pure as the driven snow. He’s forced — forced — into watching these things.

  18. Marc, you see, is as pure as the driven snow. He’s forced—forced—into watching these things.

    I have been forced. The only celebrity nude scene that I ever wanted to see is Burgess Meredith in SUCH GOOD FRIENDS.

  19. Ken Hanke

    The only celebrity nude scene that I ever wanted to see is Burgess Meredith in SUCH GOOD FRIENDS

    I confess to having missed this one. I’m turning it over in my mind as to whether or not I regret it.

  20. steve

    I saw this movie at the insistence of friends last weekend. A few more observations along the “goblet of blood” line:

    1. The filthy Lycans live in a sub-dungeon with no visible water or toilet facilities. I couldn’t get that out of my mind during the big romantic scene. He had visible smears of dirt on his body. I kept thinking how long since he had a shower? Or brushed his teeth? And you know he had dog breath. I was amused to see him taking her from behind “doggy-style” LOL

    2. That over-the-top mugging Bill Nighy does when he’s trying to catch the daughter in a lie and was facing away from Rhona Mitra almost made me laugh out loud.

    3. If you have a subservient race working for you, would you not have a couple of them clean up a bit? Everything was filthy. Or dig a decent drainage system for the castle? Raining or not, everything was always wet. All the time. If you are the superior ruling race, would you not want tot live a bit more comfortably?

    4. I found it very hard to take it seriously when Rhona Mitra got locked in her bedroom. I mean, you know she’d have to be let out at some point to get her lips re-injected. Her puffed out carp lips were very distracting to me.

    Oh, and the 6 year old that some people beside me brought in did fall asleep. Despite how loud the sound system was.

  21. steve

    Oh, and best celebrity nude scene ever – IMHO – Sam Elliott in “The Legacy”. I will shamefully confess that is the only reason I bought a copy of this movie.

    I hate all that hair weirdness he has going on now though. Sigh.

  22. Ken Hanke

    The Legacy? Is that that late 70s horror picture where Roger Daltrey chokes to death on a chicken bone?

  23. P stroud

    I realize that no one will read this, bit I just gotta ask, what the heck is the point of “supernatural” creatures who are easily killed with crossbows? The Vampires are no more formidable than a group of humans except that they can jump a bit higher and are maybe a bit stronger. They would still be easy prey for the humans who could just saunter into their castle and drag them into the sunlight and then head home for tea. The handful of lycan guards would be easily dispatched by any medium sized formation of armed humans with a bit of training.

    Where’s the menace? No wonder they are hiding in the sewers in the Underworld movies set in modern times. If the bulk of humanity ever learned of these jokes living in the sewers it would dispatch them in a short afternoon.

    Worst of all is that as a kid raised on the 50s Sci/fi horror films my friends and I at age 12 would have laughed ourselves silly at the Saturday matinee at the ridiculousness of the basic premise. Those old movies may have been cheap quickies but it’s hard to think of one that wasn’t better plotted. The people who grind out this schlock should be forced to watch Corman’s Poe movies as a basic minimum.

  24. Ken Hanke

    I realize that no one will read this

    Well, I read it because it shows up on my screen as most recent comments. And I certainly have no argument with your complaint.

Leave a Reply