Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

By Henry Twist

The franchise “Underworld” was never strong in plot or ideas, but it created a visually distinctive milieu, populated by vampires and werewolves, that appeals to young horror fans with its peculiar characters, set design and costumes.  Exploiting the commercial appeal of the previous chapters, Screen Gems has now come up with “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,” a stand-alone prequel to Len Wiseman’s two movies. 

Unfortunately, the project is assigned to a neophyte director, Patrick Tatopoulos, who lacks the technical skills to pull this one off, resulting in a structurally messy flick that suffers from an absurdly derivative plot and mediocre production values and f/x.

The third film in the series is origins story, based on a centuries-long blood feud between two powerful and immortal tribes, dwelling on the source of the conflict between the aristocratic Vampires (the Death Dealers) and the barbaric Lycans, wild bunch of fierce werewolves.

The scenario depicts how the two races of preternatural beings came into being, each from the bloodlines of a different son of the original Immortal Alexander Corvinus.  Arising from the Markus line, the Vampires became elegant, aristocratic blood drinkers, whereas the werewolves, stemming from the William line, became savage beasts with no trace of humanity, motivated by insatiable appetite for violence.  The Vampires dominate the local region (lands that are now Western Hungary) with their alert intelligence, strength, and political savvy.  But even they feared the werewolves, who lack organization but are capable of immense savagery.

 

Another genetic incident transformed the balance of power: A female werewolf captive in the Vampire stronghold, gave birth to a seemingly human child, Lucian, the first Lycan, born into slavery in the house of Viktor (Bill Nighy), the powerful Vampire leader. 

 

Centuries before his death at the end of “Underworld: Evolution,” Lycan  falls in love with Sonja (Rhona Mitra of “Doomsday”), the  sexy, rebellious daughter of the cruel vampire leader.  In what may be a poor reworking of Romeo and Juliet, the yarn revolves around the illicit love affair and its consequences for all involved.

 

I will not be surprised if viewers will see the influence of “Spartacus” on this flick.  Unlike the original werewolves, Lycan was able to take the form of either man or beast at will.  Lucian’s bloodline was used by Viktor to create a new breed of slaves, abused by the Vampires as laborers and guards during the dangerous daylight hours, and prevented from transforming by the silver-spiked moon shackles locked around their necks.  Thus, there is a long sequence in which the half-human Lucian, oppressed and frusrated by years of slavery, acts on his bloody instincts and heads a massive revolt.

Despite the romantic angle, this Underworld, unlike other vampire sagas (“Twilight,” TV's “True Blood”) goes to the format's most basic elements of fangs and blood, teeth gnashing and snarling. The medieval setting, with its swords and arrows, rather than guns, may please some fans, while disappoint others.

 

However, for a 90-minute yarn, the pacing is sometimes too deliberate and sometimes too frantic, and the movie relies on CGI effects that are sharply uneven.  Occasionally, Tatopoulos strikes the right note, maintaining the gloomy mood that had defined the first two features, but there's too much blood spurting even by standards of the genre and the fights and action set pieces are not particularly good or fun to watch.

If some of the scenes between Viktor and his captive werewolf Lucian are watchable, it's due to the proficient cast, which knows the difference between serious, ironic, and campy acting. The british dominated ensemble again proves that, with technique to draw on, you could play the most prepsoterously written dialogue without too much embarrassment.  Always a theatrical actor, Nighy is expectedly imperiousness, Sheen, who is so impressive in “Frost/Nixon,” brings out the ferocity, while Stephen Macintosh underacts his part as the archivist Tannis. 

Cast

 

Lucian – Michael Sheen
Viktor – Bill Nighy
Sonja – Rhona Mitra
Tannis – Steven Mackintosh
Raze – Kevin Grevioux
Coloman – David Aston
Orsova – Elizabeth Hawthorne
Costa – Larry Rew
Selene – Kate Beckinsale
 

Credits

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Screen Gems and Lakeshore Entertainment presentation of a Lakeshore Entertainment production in association with Sketch Films.
Produced by Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Len Wiseman, Richard Wright.
Executive producers, Skip Williamson, Henry Winterstern, James McQuaide, Eric Reid, Beth DePatie.
Co-producers, David Kern, Kevin Grevioux.
Directed by Patrick Tatopoulos.
Screenplay, Danny McBride, Dirk Blackman, Howard McCain, based on characters created by Len Wiseman, Robert Orr, McBride.
Camera, Ross Emery; editor, Peter Amundson; music, Paul Haslinger; production designer, Dan Hennah; art director, Gary Mackay; set designer, Will Crooks; “Sonja” costume designs, Wendy Partridge; sound (Dolby Digital), Richard Flynn; stunt/fight coordinator, Allan Poppleton; visual effects supervisor, James McQuaide; creature designer and supervisor, Tatopoulos

MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 92 Minutes