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Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Genre Fantasy
Year: 2009

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is a prequel to Underworld, which takes place hundreds of years prior to the modern day feud between Lycan (Werewolf) and Vampire. One should approach the third installment of most movies with caution, and Underworld is no different. However, this medieval fantasy feud was surprisingly watchable. The cast is good, the special effects are balanced, the settings are as dark and foreboding as the soundtrack and the story combines a number of familiar themes. Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest) returns as Viktor with much more screentime, Rhona Mitra (Doomsday) replaces Kate Beckinsale as Sonja and Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon) stars as Lucian. The multi-talented Patrick Tatapoulos replaces Len Wiseman as director for the prequel, and proves that he’s got what it takes to create a taut action, horror, fantasy thriller of the same calibre.

Lucian is born in captivity to Viktor, who spares his life in order to use the man/creature to wield his own will. Years pass and Lucian passes over the taste for human blood to protect Sonja, Viktor’s daughter. After being imprisoned, Lucian finds a way to escape in order to lead an uprising with his rebel band of Lycan soldiers against Viktor’s fortress and vampire regime. Danny McBride heads the writing tag-team of Dirk Blackman and Howard McCain, who co-wrote Outlander. The story combines Biblical elements from the path of Christ, Moses, Romeo & Juliet and even takes some strands from Robin Hood. These classic themes are concealed under all the violence, blood, darkness and evil, which is contrary to its origins.

Lucian, the hero in Rise of the Lycans, can be likened to Moses and Robin Hood in his efforts to free the slaves and lead a rebel uprising against Viktor. Lucian’s appearance is similar to portrayals of Jesus, and there’s a marked similarity between Lucian’s lashings and those in The Passion of the Christ. Nighy’s over-the-top performance is similar to Alan Rickman’s role as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. While one could argue that Rhona Mitra makes an excellent Maid Marion in the throes of a secretive affair with Locksley (Lucian). Underworld: Rise of the Lycans aspires to these epics and creates an interesting blend of fantasy/horror. The story is captivating and it manages to twist several subplots into a fairly taut narrative. The film has similarities, but avoids any direct parallels with its dark, dreary style. Most of the film is shot in darkness so that the vampires have free reign and the oppressive mood is maintained.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is to the Underworld series what Army of Darkness was to the Evil Dead series: it’s connected, yet disconnnected. The radical change of setting is refreshing, and the origins story links into part 1, quite succinctly. The only criticism Underworld: Rise of the Lycans deserves is that it downplays the power of the vampires. The battles take place between the human soldiers and the Lycans in a titanic struggle in the vein of “The Two Towers”. This did cast the spotlight on the birth of the Lycan army and set the platform for the ensuing feud, however this did make the slave’s siege seem too easy. There are also moments when Mitra doesn’t look like she’s wearing contacts and the Lycan creature special effects are cloaked by the dark backdrop. However, these factors are negligible in influencing your enjoyment of the film.

It’s not in the same league as its influences, but makes a competent, entertaining and refreshing installation in the Underworld series. Fans of the Underworld series will be relieved, and Alien vs. Predator movie producers will be inspired. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans outclasses Blade: Trinity and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, but is still a few shades shy of being a Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. This is a rare case of a third installment actually trumping its original by a length. The big question: is there going to be a Rise of the Vampires prequel or an Underworld 4 sequel?

The bottom line: Thrilling.

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