I’m a big fan of vampire movies. In fact, it takes a really craptastic film involving vampires for me to not at least enjoy myself a little. There’s something sexy, badass, uber-violent, and just ridiculously cool about the whole mythology of vampires. And who wouldn’t want to be immortal? Or maybe that’s just me going through an existential crisis about my own mortality right now, but I think being immortal would kick serious ass (even if you had to “feed” on the occasional human, the world is filled with douche bags).
Enough of that nonsense, I’m also a big fan of the “Underworld” franchise. I own the first and second on DVD and don’t mind the occasional “sexy Kate Beckinsale in leather kicking ass as a vampire” fix. Neither of them are fantastic films or even close to being the best vampire movies ever made, but they are both a hell of a lot of fun to watch and Bill Nighy is one bad mother as the head vampire Victor. The first two focus on present day circumstances surrounding the continuing battle between Lycans (half-man, half-werewolf) and vampires, and the line between good and evil is severely blurred. With the third, I was stoked to hear the filmmakers were taking it back in time to when the Lycans first rose up against their vampire masters, but I was a little nervous about the love story element. Luckily after seeing the film, my fears have subsided.
The plot of the film is pretty simple. Vampires and werewolves were created (they don’t really say how, they just were) and they didn’t get along very well. The werewolves were savage beasts that could never turn back to their human form and spent there days praying on humans and their nights battling vampires, they were like rabid dogs. Vampires, calling themselves Death Dealers, began hunting the wolves in an attempt to keep their shaky truce with humanity. Then everything changed when Lucien was born, a human looking child from a female werewolf. He was the first of his kind, a Lycan, meaning he was able to revert back to his human form but still immortal. Victor (the head vampire in case you forgot) decided to use Lucien’s blood to harvest more Lycans to be their slaves and guard the kingdom during the day when the vampires were vulnerable and taking their nappy-poo. Victor never anticipated that his only daughter, Sonja, would one day fall in love with Lucien and lead to a betrayal that sparks a war between Lycans and vampires that would last centuries.
First off, all the “Underworld” movies have done a great job with the werewolf effects, because all three use as much practical and creature effects as possible. In this film there was more CGI than in the past, but how else do you show 500 werewolves storming a castle without a trillion dollar budget? The film does a great job of balancing story and action. There is just enough character development mixed with gory fight scenes that the plot never gets in the way of the forward momentum. The love story is a bit cheese ball and very “Romeo and Juliet,” but that’s the point. They are supposed to be the original star-crossed lovers that started this bloodline feud and the screenplay is kind enough to us action junkies to not focus too much on building up the love story (sorry ladies, you’re just going to have to buy that they love each other in the few short scenes you’re given). When Lucien loses the woman he loves there isn’t quite the emotional impact the story wants it to have, but I don’t think anyone going to see an “Underworld” movie is expecting to be moved to tears, we just want to see werewolves and vampires kicking ass and this film delivers that. My only gripe is that I think it could have been longer. I realize from watching the behind the scenes that production had a limited budget and the script was a bit rushed because of the WGA strike, but I would have loved for the action scenes to go on just a hair longer, especially the end where the Lycans and werewolves team up and storm Victor’s castle. The scenes are done fairly well and are good, bloody entertainment. I just wanted more, but maybe I’m just desensitized or A.D.D.
The story’s approach to focusing on the “Rise of the Lycans” instead of the love between Sonja and Lucien was a good call. Even the first two movies were more about the vampires and their side of the story with hints to the Lycans’ origins. Seeing the other side to the feud brings fresh light to a genre that continually needs to reinvent itself and “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” does a pretty damn good job of it. There’s nothing mind-blowing in the realm of originality here, but it certainly doesn’t feel stale and there are a lot of great elements to it. If you liked the other two, this one is a worthy prequel and addition to the franchise.
From Script to Screen- Featurette on the making of the film and showing some of the werewolf costumes and set building, short but cool to watch
The Origin of the Feud- is about 20 minutes long and goes into the history of each of the characters and has interviews with the actors that played them
Re-Creating the Dark Ages- featurette about how they built the sets and shooting in New Zealand
Music Video: Death Club- not my kind of music at all
Features B minus