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Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009) Director Patrick Tatopoulos 2 February 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Uncategorized.
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Underworld 3 is a prequel to the 2003/2006 vampires vs. werewolves action fests starring Kate Beckinsale and directed by husband Len Wiseman (Die Hard 4). Neither return for Rise of the Lycans, instead we have Michael Sheen reprising his role as Lucian – the first Lycan able to change between his human and animal form at will; Rhona Mitra adequately filling Beckinsale’s shoes in the tough girl role as Sonja a vampire who falls in love with Lucian and the daughter of Vampire superior Viktor (Bill Nighy who also reprises his role from the first two films). For anyone who has seen the first two Underworld films (not many who haven’t would be interested in seeing this prequel) the plot is explained pretty much in flashbacks in the first film but really all you need to know is that the Lycans (werewolves) are slaves to the vampires and through a series of unfortunate events the once loyal Lucian leads his kind in an uprising against their oppressive masters. That’s about it really.

To be honest though no-one goes to see these films for a gripping plot. Where the Underworld franchise in general really delivers is in its full on beast on beast action, brilliantly over the top and unashamed gore. Director Patrick Tatopoulos was the creature effects designer on the first two films and he does an admirable job here, a few nice shots and sequences but nothing spectacular, particularly for this genre where you have to pull off something truly unique to shine. The fight scenes also suffer from tight angles and quick cutting like a lot of modern action films, which makes them almost impossible to follow at times unfortunately.

Sheen has always been one of the best things in the Underworld films and its brilliant to see him given his own starring role here. After out acting Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon it wasn’t going to be hard for Sheen to be the standout in a movie about vampires and werewolves and it’s no surprise that he is. Lucian is an instantly likable and relatable protagonist though admittedly it’s not hard to make an oppressed slave easy to like. The rest of the cast isn’t so great. Nighy once again delivers his horribly over the top take on the eastern European undead, the voice alone is enough to make me cringe but coupled with his animated facial expressions it makes the performance almost laughable, but I love it! Rhona Mitra has obviously been cast because of her physical similarities to Kate Beckinsale (not just a marketing ploy though as Underworld lore has always said that Sonja resembled Beckinsale’s Selene, hence Lucian’s attraction to both characters) but proves to be a more than worthy replacement. She proved she can pull off the tough girl role with ease in Doomsday and little more is demanded of her here, apart from a few ridiculous sex scenes with Lucian on a mountain top no less!

I am a big fan of the first two Underworld films and Rise of the Lycans is a very different beast. It’s fun to see all that we know from flashbacks in the previous installments play out and the series has always better suited a period rather than modern day setting (hence the decision to set most of the second film in largely unpopulated forest areas in Eastern Europe as opposed to the metropolitan areas of the first) but something felt missing from Rise of the Lycans. There were some great moments of action and gore (in particular the Lycans first escape attempt which meets an unfortunate end at the point of huge spears) but on the whole the set pieces are dull and unoriginal. We’ve all seen the forbidden love story before and with this film it’s the case that knowing the outcome immediately destroys any dramatic tension as to how it will play out.

Fans will find a lot to appreciate in Rise of the Lycans, though it is probably newcomers who will take the most from it by nature of their ignorance at how it will all play out. Easily the worst of the three, but a fitting end to the franchise.

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