When I found out that Sony Screen Gems wasn’t screening UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS for critics, I immediately cringed. After the multiple screenings and excitement behind QUARANTINE back in October, it was obvious there was inherent fear in Sony’s eyes. It was for good reason, but to the defense of director Patrick Tatopoulus, it wasn’t that bad….
While I was waiting for the film to start, these two young boys next to me were talking to me about horror films and such. What I found interesting was that they were genuine fans of the franchise, as in they own the first two and were immersed in the mythology (supposedly) created by Len Wiseman. Obviously a big portion of their obsession came from the pure sex appeal of the beautiful Kate Beckinsale, who they were hawking for the entire time we waited (she never showed). Either way, I was fascinated by their allegiance to UNDERWORLD and the two sequels and it also made it clear why LYCANS was made. Only the hardcore UNDERWORLD uber-fan will like this movie, for everyone else it’s just a generic love story done 1,000 times before (even in the first film back in 2003).
LYCANS takes a trip back to the absolute beginning, where Vampires were holed up in castle and Lycans (werewolves) roam free in the wild. We bare witness to the birth of Lucian, played by Michael Sheen (snubbed for an Academy Award Nominee for FROST/NIXON), who is the first human form Lycan. The leader of the vampires, Viktor (Bill Nighy), imprisons him and makes him a servant to the vampires. Queue side love story of Sonja (Rhona Mitra), who is secretly sleeping with the enemy (Lucian). The love is forbidden (the ROMEO & JULIET angle used to pitch the first film) and causes a rift between father and daughter, and daughter and her allegiance to her clan. The Lycans would break free and a never-ending war is unleashed upon the world.
For the fans of the franchise, they’ll find all sorts of little “moments” that give a wink and a nod in their direction. They can giggle and talk amongst themselves saying things like, “So that’s how it happened!” For everyone else, there’s endless exposition and a story so generic I’m quite sure the same story was told in the Bible (of course sans vampires and werewolves).
While the screenplay wasn’t as hammy as I figured it might be, they do write the vampires and werewolves in such a trite way that it’s just bland and forgettable. What really kills the mood is the costume design mixed with the dialogue. The Lycans act and look like they might actually be from the “Hercules” or Xena” TV series. They have long unkempt hair, are dirty, wear brown leather wristbands from Hot Topic and give long horrid speeches about being free. On the other hand, the vampires have a pretty solid pseudo medieval-otherworldly look to them, and having Bill Nighy leading the pack can only help the cause. Rhona Mitra, who you might remember from DOOMSDAY, does a solid Kate Beckinsale impersonation, which is obviously what they were hoping for when they cast her.
Beyond the generic plot, there are some nice action set pieces that include some competent shooting and plenty of gore. When the practical FX work was on, we see great stuff that ranges from werewolf beheadings to incredible puppetry, while other times in the background you could see ridiculous looking werewolves that were obviously humans walking around in a costume. And for a director that’s been in special FX since 1993, it’s unforgivable how bad some of the CGI is, especially in moments where it was completely unnecessary. Rule of thumb: ALL CGI blood looks like sh*t. But whoever worked on the werewolves running through the moonlight did a stunning job. There were some real standout moments in terms of the CG elements, too bad for every good shot there was one equally as bad.
While the movie isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s just as forgettable, if not more than, the first two UNDERWORLD films. There’s absolutely nothing original or interesting that happens within the 92 minutes; it’s probably best to save your money and go see Sheen in FROST/NIXON instead.