Underworld: Rise of the Lycans - Mania.com

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Mania Grade: B

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  • Movie: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
  • Reviewed Format: Theatrical
  • Rating: R
  • Starring: Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra, Kevin Grevioux, Steven Mackintosh, David Ashton and Elizabeth Hawthorne
  • Written By: Danny McBride, Dirk Blackman, Howard McCain
  • Directed By: Patrick Tatopoulos
  • Distributor: Sony Screen Gems
  • Series:

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Hang on. It doesn't suck?!

By Rob Vaux     January 24, 2009

Mania Reviews Screen Gems' UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS(2009).
© Mania.com/Robert Trate


What a strange irony that the latest and best of the three Underworld films is the only one lacking the series' biggest asset. That would be Kate Beckinsale, whose icy vampiric assassin provided the only real reason to tune in to earlier entries. Bonny Kate is nowhere to be seen here, though an opening voice-over echoes her presence and a brief shot towards the end has been culled from the original as a reminder. But otherwise the former second bananas take center stage, as Bill Nighy's aristocratic vampire lord and Michael Sheen's power-to-the-people lycanthrope reveal how Underworld's ancient monster mash got started.
            Both actors are far too good for such material of course (in Sheen's case, he's appearing just one day after his Frost/Nixon received a Best Picture nomination). But they throw themselves into their duties with earnest enthusiasm, aided by a script-by-committee that actually seems to know what it's doing for a change. Gone is the muddled political tangle of earlier movies. Gone is the repetitive structure, empty posturing, and lifeless romance between Beckinsale's Selene and Scott Speedman's half-breed Michael. In its place… well, okay, in its place there's a lot more of the same. But it's cleaner, sharper and much more fun than in the past, and that makes all the difference.
            Sheen and designated replacement Kate Rhona Mitra duplicate the star-crossed lovers routine in Rise of the Lycans, generating decent chemistry and thus giving us a greater stake in the outcome. She plays Sonja, daughter to Nighy's Viktor and the apple of his eye back in the Middle Ages (when things that go bump in the night didn't have to hide their true nature). They meet as Lucian is working in the smithy of Viktor's castle, while she patrols his kingdom as one of the fearsome Death Dealers. Like all Lycans, he's a slave: bred by Viktor to keep his vampiric coven safe from daytime interlopers. At first, he's relatively happy with his lot, but his forbidden union with Sonja and general poor treatment at the hands of the vamps prompt him to plot an escape. The romance complicates matters: Sonja is still loyal to her father despite her love for Lucian, who is reluctant to simply flee without her. Unfortunately, Viktor has long since lost any capacity for emotion and now cares only about holding onto power… which eventually turns Lucian from scheming fugitive into full-blooded revolutionary.
            The arc remains fairly predictable, while the movie itself clearly sides with the oppressed Lycans against their vampire masters. Within that framework, however, it attains a simple, robust excitement well suited to such pulpy endeavors. Politics arise (mostly within Viktor's undead brood), but it stays straightforward without losing the Machiavellian sheen it requires to function, while the combat scenes are bloody without descending into overt exploitation. The look of the film keeps the "dark" in the Dark Ages, but avoids the murky confusion which plagued the franchise's second entry. Director Patrick Tatopoulos has worked mainly in the visual effects department before now, and he proves adept at the helm here: bringing the various set pieces to life and making the modestly engaging action scenes easy to follow.
            Nighy and Sheen, for their part, relish the opportunity to take center stage. Though they both dial the campiness down from their previous entries, there's still a twinkle in their eyes that reminds us to lighten the hell up--a playfulness which they achieve without reducing the inherent drama in their characters. Dialogue brimming with cliché becomes wryly amusing in their hands, and while Beckinsale's absence can be felt, Rise of the Lycans takes pains to tie it all into her story with a reasonable amount of elegance.
            None of that makes it Citizen Kane, of course. Though it flirts with the Shakespearean, it has little interest in being anything but a second-tier popcorn flick and its convictions can't disguise the B-movie goofiness that has always lain at the heart of this trilogy. But for a January release kept far away from the critics, it succeeds surprisingly well at its appointed task. To do so without the star who got things this far makes it doubly impressive, and for a series that never exactly stunned the cinema world with its quality, a solid piece of genre entertainment represents the closest thing to a pinnacle it is likely to find. Enjoy the pleasant surprise and don't poke too hard at its shortcomings: we can see them on display without having to ruin the fun in the process.


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darkheart00 1/24/2009 8:32:38 AM

 Excellent ! Going to see this today. I'll be back later with my thoughts.

mbeckham1 1/24/2009 9:28:30 AM

Looks good.  I have to say I've enjoyred the trailers for this more than the other two.  Really sounbds cool with th Lycan uprising.  Love the premise.

almostunbiased 1/24/2009 10:45:53 AM

When I went to Rotten Tomatoes and no one had reviewed this yet I was scared.  That usually means it sucks because they don't want anyone to tell everyone that before opening weekend.  Still this review doesn't make it sound promising really.  "Doesn't suck" isn't exactly an endorsement.

darkheart00 1/24/2009 4:39:49 PM

I agree with the reviewer for the most part. If you're a fan of the first two you should have a good time with this film. I loved the first one and liked the second, so I already had a handicap going into this movie. It's raining here right now and I can think of alot worse ways to spend the afternoon. Mindless action / horror and some popcorn worked out nicely. If you didn't like the first two then don't bother wasting your time because it's just more of the same. Wash, rinse, repeat. I'd probably give it a C though in my book. You know basically how things are going to play out so that takes away most of the suspense and fun. The plot is ok and the script is about what you would expect.

Well, I am not going in depth and reveal plot points. Let's just go with this top 3 breakdown:


1. Given what they have to work with Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen tear up their respective scenes. Lucian's "we can be slaves or we can be Lycans" speech from the trailer was still pretty cool even though I have seen the commercial 50 million times already.

2. Kate who? Rhona Mitra = pure hotness.

3. I need the number for whoever is in charge of costuming for my next goth party. All the leather and velvet aside the vampire soldiers armor was pretty sweet. Looked like leftovers from LOTR and that can't be considered bad.


1. The blue hue all over everything. Come on, even daylight, really?

2. The fight choreographer, film editor and cameraman need to find new careers. What's the point of a cool Lycan / Vampire battle if all I see is blur, blood, blur, scream, more blue hue, blur. Slow that crap down would you.

3. The voice over at the beginning was good, the "cameo" at the end was unnecessary.

silversurfer 1/24/2009 8:43:04 PM

I just left from seeing this one...I thought that it was excellent...the B rating for this is about right, and yes Rhona Mitra is blazing on screen...I liked the way this one tied the other 2 together...very entertaining. It was better than I thought it would be...

I don't think that they need another one though...this happened just the way it needed to.

maxx1mus 1/25/2009 12:43:23 PM

just saw the movie on friday and i loved it way better than the last one by far, rhona mitra is just straight HOTNESS!!!!!!   no need to do a sequel btu knowing hollywood im sure they'll milk this franchise even more if this one succeeds which im sure it will

myklspader 1/25/2009 4:55:59 PM

 What movie was the reviewer watching to give a B? Then again what movie was everyone else who liked it watching? As usual I had no real expectations on this so it was a bit of a good time. I only went cause I am a big fan of Mitra (have been since “Gideon's Crossing” and her cameo in “Hollow Man”) and Nighy. 

I really wanted the set-up to be way better. Maybe the nobles were weary of the vampire reign and wanted to help free the Lycans to help kill the vampires (which could help explain the bound nobles that were being drawn by that carriage… maybe they were to be like spies) or something more about the slavery and being equals since after all the love of Sonja and Lucian were making them equals. Maybe they could have had Kraven in it to help set up the first movie tie in or even to help with some kind of power struggle/over throw plot. The whole plot was just so bland and just felt like an instruction booklet or writing exercise you would find in a screenwriting class. The direction, well a step DOWN actually from the half-assing Kate's wife does on a normal basis (listen just cause Tatopoulos created a semi-cool Godzilla and some other decent FX creatures doesn't mean he can direct). The action shot/blocked too tight to really get what the hell they were doing half the time. The writing… see above and I think you get the way I feel about the plot and characterizations. And overall just bland with the exception of Mitra, Sheen and Nighy. 

The thing that annoyed me the most was that Sonja in the first movie through flash backs is shown with blonde hair and I think Mitra could have pulled that off. Also where was Lucian's mark that Kraven would get to prove he killed him as implied in the first movie? That was Viktor's branded mark so I am sure he would have had that as a slave, right? 

The big issue I had and have with stuff like this is keeping the establishment of the history right, out right screw ups like this just show how untalented the creators really are. 

aegrant 1/26/2009 10:20:35 AM


I like the story (but myklspader made some good points)  and there could be a set up for a sequel to the prequel (I was waiting for Lucian to make a deal with Kraven - whose character was barely in the movie).  if they do make another movie I hope they explore more of what was stated in the first two films.

What brought the movie down for me was the amount of gore - it was not needed in my opinion

aegrant 1/26/2009 10:21:33 AM

Yo! get an edit feature on here - That was a C Plus but the plus sign didn't show

HunterRose 1/26/2009 1:34:49 PM

myklspader complains about shots, plot and so on, but just proves that the majority of movie goers don't get most of what's going on. I hate when directors/writers go out of their way to set up scenes or explain the obvious, but after reading myklspader's comments I understand why simple explanation are needed.

myklspader wrote "which could help explain the bound nobles that were being drawn by that carriage…"

Really? Bound nobles? The nobles were inside the carriage and the bound people were obviously "snack offerings" for the vampires.

Everybody has to be a couch director or writer.......


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