20 May 2009

Movie Review: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans


C+

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
2009, 88mins, R
Director: Patrick Tatopoulos
Writer (s): Danny McBride, Kevin Grevioux, Howard McCain, Dirk Blackman, Len Wiseman, Robert Orr
Cast includes: Rhona Mitra, Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, Kevin Grevioux, Steven Mackintosh, David Ashton
Release Date: 23rd January 2009

“Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” is a the third in the “Underworld” cycle, a film series that took off in 2003 with a guilty pleasure of an original then fumbled terribly in 2006 with a yawn inducing and cheaply assembled sequel. The factors that made the first film enjoyable largely involved well staged gunplay, attractive washed out visuals and Kate Beckinsale in skintight Goth get-up, only one of these assets making it all the way to this, part three. The dark yet oddly stimulating visual palette is still on show, but Beckinsale has jumped ship and being this a medieval prequel of sorts, automatic weapons are a scarcity. Still under the new guiding eye of Patrick Tatopoulos (the initial entries where directed by Len Wiseman) “Rise of the Lycans” is surprisingly amiable, as silly as ever, but more often than not reasonably entertaining.

“Rise of the Lycans” chronicles the rise of the werewolf style monsters of the title, amidst a Romeo and Juliet plotline. Such forbidden loves formed the core basis of the first picture and even to a degree the follow up, but Tatopoulos has seen fit to reuse it again, once more we’re treated to the sights of vampires and dog people getting jiggy with each other. Enslaved by the vampire lord Viktor (Bill Nighy), Lycanthrope Lucien (Michael Sheen) spends his days forging metals, slaving and making passionate love to Viktor’s own daughter, Sonya (Rhona Mitra). The wolfman and young vampire are truly enamored with each other, but for such a love to exist is heresy, and thus all their intimate frequenting is done in isolated privacy. After Sonya’s life is saved by Lucien in a way forbidden by Viktor, the vampire overlord locks him away leaving the predatory lovers in a state of separation. However with Sonya’s aid Lucien is set free along with the Lycan hordes and a small army is amassed to fight the vampire threat. Viktor learning of the wolf’s lust for his spawn has however a defensive plan, use Sonya as bait, and kill Lucien and the Lycan danger once and for all.

If there is one thing “Rise of the Lycans” consistently does unlike its predecessors, it’s telling the majority of the tale from the werewolf perspective. Previous installments where all about Beckinsale’s ferocious and sexually rapacious vampire warrior, this time we focus on Michael Sheen who is errr…..also ferocious and sexually rapacious. Like Beckinsale, Sheen is able to inject an iota of acting credibility into a story seeing little use for it, and this characteristic is what keeps “Rise of the Lycan’s from spiraling into self parody and disaster. It’s not a film to be taken seriously, Bill Nighy is in full ham mode and Mitra keeps proving a hugely amateurish performer, but thanks to Sheen’s intensity and a few well placed and thrilling moments it’s always an actioner and never a comedy. The cast do look to be having a tremendous amount of fun as they spurt wonderfully overwritten sonnets of dialogue and attack each other with swords, and a lot of that energy and giddy entertainment value crosses over to the audience. It’s not a memorable origin story nor does it ever try to be, but it’s actually rather delightful in short fitful bursts.

On a technical scale the movie rates highly and is given like the other entries a charged and electronically fuelled score by Paul Haslinger, further cementing himself as the go to guy for musical scores containing an emo edge. The action is shot with a sprightly eye for carnage and pomp by the franchise inheritor and whilst some of the CGI is a little dodgy (the last films also featured some less than perfect digitals) it rarely detracts from the unapologetic nonsensical chaos that plays out onscreen. Brevity is another commendable asset the feature boasts, and whilst the screenplay is riddled with bad writing and insurmountable cliché, the filmmakers know it’s about the OTT mythological set-pieces and horny vampire/Lycan moments. At the speed with which “Rise of the Lycans” thunders you probably won’t catch anything else anyways.

Fans of this now stretched saga should feel elated with what’s on offer here, regardless of your opinion on the series this betters part two and gets within touching distance of the moody first. Tatopoulos has against all odds proved that there’s still a little hysterical and frenzied entertainment value in this beast yet, and drags a good deal out in what combines to be a rather amusing threequel. A fourth is probably pushing it but once again those looking for vigorous action and delirious silliness can safely return to the Underworld.


A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009

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