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  Publicity Stills of
"Underworld: Rise of the Lycans"
(Courtesy of Columbia TriStar)

Genre: Action/Fantasy/Thriller
Director: Patrick Tatopoulos
Cast: Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra, Steven Mackintosh, Kevin Grevioux
RunTime: 1 hr 32 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Rating: M18 (Violence)
Official Website: http://www.entertheunderworld.com/

Opening Day: 5 February 2009


"Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" delves into the origins of the centuries-old blood feud between the aristocratic vampires, known as Death Dealers, and the barbaric Lycans (werewolves). A young Lycan, Lucian (Michael Sheen), emerges as a powerful leader who rallies the werewolves to rise up against Viktor (Bill Nighy), the cruel vampire king who has persecuted them for hundreds of years. Lucian is joined by his secret lover, the beautiful vampire Sonja (Rhona Mitra), in his battle to free the Lycans from their brutal enslavement.

Movie Review:

While the first two Underworld movies didn't break any new ground in its story of the never ending battle between the creatures of the nights with vampires and werewolves/lycans, what it did to make up for its shortcomings is a fairly interesting and tightly woven tale brought to life by a very believably sexy vampire in Kate Beckinsale's Selene going up and about her duties as a death-dealer. And yes I'm a fan. With the events at the end of Evolution, it would be a real challenge to put our protagonists in a situation to challenge them, because such is the dilemma of having super beings and a plot that wrapped up nicely. So like all filmmakers looking into expanding such a franchise, the only way to go is backwards in time.

Granted that it already had a chunk of its backstory told in flashbacks seen in the first two films, I guess nothing beats having to see it all played out properly on screen, with a little more meat attached. Rise of the Lycans went all the way back to explain how the seeds of discord between Viktor (Bill Nighy) the vampire and the Lycans led by Lucian (Michael Sheen) were sown.

And here's where again the story's a bit like reading a school textbook, with little surprises thrown along the way, making it a fairly ordinary yarn. Simply put, the Lycans were a race which are of werewolf blood, only with more intellect, and controllable. And being bred by the vampires for protection and slavery, as with all oppressed races, they're looking toward a saviour who would lead them to salvation, new life and to the promised land. Heck, Lucian even had to suffer whippings straight out of Passion of the Christ.

As if his life's calling wasn't enough for him, he had to fall for Viktor's daughter Sonia (Rhona Mitra), and thus begins a Romeo and Julliet love affair that's forbidden yet passionately strong for it to be comicly consummated, making it the catalyst of all their troubles to come. There's plenty that could have been done in this film, but subplots like political intrigue become wafer thin before you know it, in order to suit the fairly light runtime of under 90 minutes (without the credits), and opted instead for the usual master-slavery dynamics of fighting for one's freedom, and on the other side in keeping their slaves under control.

The creature effects are again a sight to behold, since director Patrick Tatopoulos, who took over the helm from Len Wiseman, has a background on creature design. The lycan transformation is beautiful to gawk at, though you can tell that a relatively modest budget meant sporadic changes to and fro. The battle sequences are almost all shot in the dark, and reminiscent of many large scaled battles from plenty of flicks set in medieval times, that it does suffer from a little fatigue – just how many charging scenes and scaling of fort walls can one actually sit through before they look all the same? One on one battles also get blurred from the close ups, telling only when splashes of red hit the screen, adding the colour of crimson blood to what's essentially all dark blue, grey and black. And the fights here aren't as stylishly executed as per the earlier movies too, relying a little too much on shock-and-gore. I had 'wow' moments in the earlier films, but tried hard to look for something here that impressed.

Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen reprise their roles as adversaries here without much effort, and with the other characters being supporting, one-dimensional acts, Rhona Mitra (we know what she could do in Doomsday) had to front the movie under the immense weight of expectations whether she could step into Kate Beckinsale's shoes. Granted her role as Sonia is totally different, only to be mentioned in the first film without details, she still had to become the 'face of Underworld' as did Kate, being the Pied Piper now to lure the fanboys into continuing with the franchise. She's an able replacement in the looks department (this because the story had a requirement of Selene bearing some resemblance to Sonia), but the fights here had been a letdown to the Sonia character. Selene kicks major butt with her rapid fire twin handguns and milks her supernatural abilities to the max, but Sonia turns out to be less able in waging war high on her horse and brandishing only a mean looking sword.

Call it an unfair comparison if you will, but if it's a fairly average story to begin with, then you'd surely need a larger than life charismatic role to pull everything together. Rise of the Lycans finished what it began nicely, wrapping up without much room left for the mythos to except go back further in time, or to resume normal transmission. So can we have Kate back please?

Movie Rating:

(A nice but average origin story to the Underworld franchise. Now can we have Kate back please?)

Review by Stefan Shih


. Twilight (2008)

. Doomsday (2008)

. I Am Legend (2007)

. Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

. Beowulf (2007)

. Underworld Evolution (2006)

. The Convenant (2006)

. The Descent (2005)

. Blade: Trinity (2004)


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