Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Bill Nighy doesn't drink...wine.

Bill Nighy doesn't drink...wine.

(Screen Gems) Michael Sheen, Rhona Mitra, Bill Nighy, Steven Mackintosh, Kevin Grevioux, David Aston. Directed by Patrick Tatopoulos

Every story has a beginning. For the ongoing war between the Vampires and Lycans (werewolves), we have seen only the middle. This is where it began.

Most fairy tales begin with “Once Upon a Time.” So, once upon a time the vampires were in charge of everything. Human lords paid them tribute and vampires kept Lycan slaves to do the heavy lifting and also to protect them during the daylight hours when they must sleep.

Victor (Nighy) is ruler of the Vampire coven. His daughter Sonja (Mitra) is like him haughty and a member of the ruling council, although she doesn’t seem to take her responsibilities seriously. It’s a serious time for the Vampires; the original pure-blooded Lycans who are more beast than human are on a rampage, and they have far greater numbers.

One of the pureblood Lycans has had a baby who has retained its humanity. While Victor executes the mother, he spares the baby who grows up to be Lucian (Sheen), who was part of the central action in the first Underworld. From his blood Victor creates a number of – clones? – Well, a lot of bare-chested guys that get hairy when the moon is full. Victor controls them by means of silver bondage collars that kind of fit in with the whole S&M motif – the vampires are awfully fond of leather corsets, bustieres and trenchcoats. 

Lucian has also fallen in love with Sonja and the two are carrying on a torrid, illicit affair that is forbidden by Vampire law (which sounds like a title for a new series on the CW). When Sonja impulsively goes out to save a group of human nobles who were attacked by the bestial Lycans on the way to a meeting with the Vampire council, Lucian rides out to save her and is forced to remove his collar to fight his cousins. Although he saves Sonja, he is punished for breaking the law of never removing his collar.

Lucian is befriended by a human slave named Raze (Grevioux, who also appeared as this character in the first Underworld) who is turned to werewolf by Victor, who has Raze bitten by a pureblood. Seeing that his people are being brutalized by the Vampires Lucian undergoes a change of heart. He decides, Spartacus-like, to lead his people – and incidentally the humans too – to freedom. Sonja helps him escape but in the process their love for each other is exposed – and Victor is forced to do something so horrible it will set events in motion that will reverberate around the world for a thousand years.

This is the kind of movie that needs to be a wild ride, and for some of the movie it accomplishes that. There are plenty of nifty action scenes, vampire and werewolf chow downs and transformations galore. There’s also a great deal of blood as you might expect.

You don’t see this kind of movie for the acting, but there are actually some fine actors involved. Nighy is having a grand old time going over the top like he’s summiting Everest. It’s actually fun to watch him wrap himself around dialogue that would do a Roman epic proud. He can make even the tritest lines sound positively Shakespearean and he doesn’t disappoint here.

Sheen has been coming on lately to deliver some awesome work of late in movies like The Queen and Frost/Nixon. He is reprising a role from earlier in his career; it isn’t the most glamorous of his career but he nonetheless gives it his all and makes Lucian heroic, if a bit bland. He certainly looks far more hunky than in his turns as Tony Blair and David Frost.

Because this is all about vampires, most of the movie takes place at night and inside a creepy, dark castle. Dark is the operative word here; dark as in underlit. Between the dark sets, the black wardrobe and the pale skin, sometimes it feels like you’re watching the film through black gauze.

There’s not a lot of emotional resonance here which is a bit odd since at the center of the movie is a forbidden love story, but in the long run that’s okay. After all, we’re talking vampires and werewolves here, right? That’s just a recipe for awesomeness that shouldn’t disappoint and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans doesn’t. There’s enough fun that the movie fulfills its purpose and leaves me wanting another go.

WHY RENT THIS: Bill Nighy chows down on the scenery like he hasn’t eaten in days, and he seems to be having a great time doing it too. Sheen has been doing the best work of his career lately; he puts a brave face on and does exceptionally well in a part that doesn’t necessarily deserve it.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This is a very, very dark movie. No, not the tone; the lighting. It’s downright hard to see sometimes. Some of the CGI is a little weak, and the dialogue is a bit pretentious.  

FAMILY VALUES: Gore, gore and more gore. And then, a little more gore. Oh, and some violence. And then gore. Did I mention there is a lot of gore?

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Michael Sheen was asked to re-record some dialogue for Frost/Nixon during shooting and did so, covered in fake blood after a days shooting for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. A framed picture of the event sits in Ron Howard’s office.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition has an interactive map feature called “Lycanthropes Around the World” that traces reputed werewolf sightings from around the globe.


TOMORROW: Six Days of Darkness Day Two