Ah, once more into the monochromatic, ultra-stylized Underworld franchise. You know, the first one had that novelty factor going for it because it was new. And it had the cool factor of both vampires AND werewolves. And it borrowed from “The Matrix” with its action sequences. Well, what action there was. Its’ imperfections were in the overly talky scenes of the vampires and all their rules and traditions.
“Underworld II: Evolutions” failed by being so convoluted that it felt like most of it was made up as they went along. And the return of Scott Speedman didn’t exactly help.
So, I figured we’d get much of the same with the third installment. I figured, as with the others, which at least had Kate Beckinsale to entertain me, this third one has the lovely Rhona Mitra to make it worth watching. I wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told me “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” was going to be more watchable than the other two if I hadn’t actually seen it myself. Low expectations and a surprisingly better story have indeed surprised me.
I won’t go into any great summary, because to do that would involve explaining the first film, too. Suffice it to say, “Rise of the Lycans” is the prequel to the Underworld series. It tells, of course, the story of how the Lycans came to be and how the war between them and the vampires began. The Lycans were slaves to the vampires and Lucian, being special, leads the revolt of the Lycans. Then there’s the little matter of Sonja (Mitra), the daughter of the vampire leader, Viktor (Bill Nighy). She and Lucian are in love. Oops! Two star-crossed lovers…hey, it’s like those Montegues and Capulets! Mmm, no, it’s not quite that lofty. But you get the idea. There are secret rendezvous, someone finds out about them that shouldn’t, deals are made, things get out of hand, and there’s a big crazy battle. Oh yeah, there’s some dyin’ , too, don’t you worry.
The good things about this film are that Michael Sheen, who plays Lucian, gets more screen time and he’s pretty good. He has an interesting face, especially when bearded, which works well for this role. I keep forgetting he plays David Frost in “Nixon/Frost”. It really shows his range. Also, as I mentioned, Rhona Mitra is in this. I do actually like her as an actress, and she’s, well, really hot. Like, scorching. I can see why she’s been going after these action roles. She fits the bill, and the tight leather suit, as the athletic, hot action heroine.
I also like the way this story was simplified. It’s just the Lycan revolt and the Sonja/Lucian story. Not a lot of blabbity blab about the vampires to clutter it up, as there is much less of it than the first two in this series. And the action is more plentiful and pretty cool. Who doesn’t like a bunch of vampires fighting werewolves? It’s kinda fun.
The downsides are that much of the action scenes are shot too close. This is a trend that needs to stop. It’s the Bourne School of action cinematography. The shots are too tight and it makes it hard to keep track of what’s going on. Also, the brief narration at the opening of the film that sets things up leaves one or two of the facts are unexplained. You can’t start your movie that way. And ultimately, this is just another Underworld movie. It’s mostly style with not enough substance, even though this probably has more substance that the first two.
This isn’t going to blow anyone away. But it is actually better than its two predecessors, mostly by keeping the story simple and offering more action. Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are. But, you know, you could still wait to just rent it. Faint praise, but praise nonetheless.
–Neil T. Weakley, you average movie-goer, waiting for the werewolf genre to get a new make-over.