Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

In my personal opinion I thought the first ‘Underworld’ flick was a pretty entertaining, somewhat simple vampire vs. werewolves movie with a great look and plenty of Kate Beckinsdale in tight black Lycra to keep you interested even when the movie occasionally stopped being so. ‘Underworld 2: Evolution’ was bigger, louder, faster, more expensive and more obnoxious than its predecessor but it wasn’t a better movie. Now we have a third ‘Underworld’ movie, or a first ‘Underworld’ movie if we were tracking things chronologically speaking, a movie which begins way before the character of Selene started Dealing Death in tight black Lycra which I’m sure you can understand causes us some serious concern. But as it turns out we needn’t worry all that much because ‘Underworld: Rise of the Lycans’ is the best of the ‘Underworld’ movies so far. At least if you ask me. But you didn’t, so I’m telling you.

Our film opens with some sultry voiced British lass narrating for us, filling in the blanks on the origins of the Vampires and the Lycans, informing us how the Lycans used to be just plain wicked brainless beasts, unable to become human again until the miracle birth of a human looking Lycan boy. Viktor (Bill Nighy), the leader of this vampire coven, initial instinct was to stomp the life out this little bugger but something deep in his rotten heart stopped him and thus Lucien was allowed to live and he would ultimately spawn a whole new race of Lycans. The cool thing about these Lycans, at least from the vampire point of view, is that they can be controlled and thus can be some very efficient and effective slave laborers and day guards, unlike their brutal beastly completely feral precursors.

Now my man Lucien (Michael Sheen) has become a favored slave by Viktor serving as the coven’s blacksmith and even helping to protect the compound from the occasional feral Lycan raid, but that’s all about to change. Unknown to the coven Lucien is engaged in illicit relations with Viktor’s daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra), a relationship which was alluded to in the earlier movies and a relationship which indirectly causes Lucien to behave out of character and to fall completely out of favor, though the basis of this uncharacteristic behavior still remains a carefully guarded secret.

It matters little to Lucien anyway because he has had enough of this shoddy treatment of his kind by the vampires and he was about to bust out this joint regardless, he just wants to make sure he can take his one true love with him. We have now approached full tilt rebellion mode as Lycan and Vampire engage in a battle to the death, and when Viktor finds out that his baby girl has been repeatedly and willingly and joyfully violated, over and over again, and again and again and one more time again by this werewolf vermin, he’s going to be pretty damn pissed off. I mean REALLY pissed off. I know love hurts but this is nuts.

Directed by one Patrick Tatopoulos, this incarnation of the ‘Underworld’ universe takes it foot off the pedal just a little bit to tell a better, more fleshed out story than the movie it follows. This isn’t to say that ‘Underworld: Rise of the Lycans’ has become Masterpiece Theater or anything like that since there is still plenty of neck chewing, Lycan beheading, arterial blood spray and general mayhem to satiate even the most jaded bloody action junkie, but as a prequel this movie very effectively separates itself from the first two movies with its somewhat different take on the story and by filling us in with more information on the history of the feud.

The funny thing about Michael Sheen is that I did not associate this actor, who is in his third reprisal as Lucien, as the same cat who played Tony Blair in ‘The Queen’ and David Frost in ‘Frost / Nixon’ which is a testament to how easily the dude can disappear into a role. This is another thing this film benefits from since both Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen were mainly supporting actors in the first two films but here these two superior acting talents take center stage and the movie is better for it. Instead of the relatively flat characterizations that the characters had in the previous films, Lucien being terminally angry and Viktor being wickedly cold, now Sheen is able to add some depth to the fire which drives Lucien and Nighy is able to add some semblance of compassion to Victor’s icy glare. Rhona Mitra’s Sonja also isn’t simply the reemergence of Selene in a different uniform as she creates a character that is totally separate from the previous characters and unique upon itself.

Now all that fancy actor talk sounds cool but of course the heart of the film is Vampire vs. Lycan and there’s no shortage of violent brutality with the special effects being superb, the action is fast, the battles are bloody and brutal and with a better story supporting this mayhem I think this gives these brutal battles all the more meaning.

Yes, the whole Romeo and Juliet thing probably isn’t most original plot device around, and as is typical in an action movie such as this there are things that aren’t going to make sense here and there. The film also picks up a plot point on occasion then just leaves it dangling, but it is a vampire / werewolf movie and it doesn’t forget that this is what it is supposed to be. Not that I didn’t like the other two ‘Underworld’ movies because they were certainly entertaining, but this one in my opinion had more going on for it and shouldn’t be dismissed so easily as a mindless action flick. It can be that if that’s what you’re looking for, but I believe it has a little more to offer.

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