Directed by: Patrick Tatopoulos
Premise: A prequel to Underworld. This film tells the origin of a war between vampires and werewolves. Set several hundred years ago, a coven of aristocratic vampires keeps werewolves as slaves. Lucian (Michael Sheen), the slave to vampire leader Viktor (Bill Nighy) has a secret love affair with Viktor’s daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra). When their love is exposed, Lucian leads the werewolves in revolt.
What Works: The original Underworld film was a promising first chapter that was largely let down in the abysmal follow up, Underworld: Evolution. Rise of the Lycans is a much better film, at least equaling if not exceeding the original picture. It returns to the racial politics of the first film and uses that to give the story its dramatic and thematic weight. The second Underworld film suffered from the lack of supporting actors Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy, having killed off both of their characters at the end of the first film. This prequel puts Sheen and Nighy’s characters back at the center of this story and the two deliver performances that are above average. Sheen in particular is very good as Lucian, the emerging werewolf leader. Nighy is also given some strong moments as Viktor, the vampire leader for whom power and tradition are more important than his own daughter. The story of Rise of the Lycans is set up like a mob film, with the vampires offering the locals protection from the werewolves in exchange for tribute. The portrayal of power and corruption is done well, even if there is not much substance to it, and leads to a second half that is very exciting.
What Doesn’t: The first half of Rise of the Lycans moves rather slowly. The romance between Lucian and Sonja is not done very well , in part because of the casting of actress Rhona Mitra. The film does not give her much to do and the actress is not very convincing in the role.
Bottom Line: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is good but not great. It is certainly better than Twilight or Underworld: Evolution but like the original film, it feels as though the script needed another draft. As it is, the picture will appeal to fans of the series and of the vampire and werewolf subgenres.
Episode: #225 (February 1, 2009)