Yeah, there’s opening narration, and you know how I feel about that. It’s never necessary because it is later, ALWAYS explained in the movie, between characters, and this flick is no exception.
On the other hand, I have to admit, UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS, is a much better movie than the first two. In saying this, I’m admitting that this is the first time I’ve ever known a third movie in a franchise to be better than its predessessors. EVER!
On the writing side, Danny McBride, one of three men who originally created UNDERWORLD (along with Kevin Grevioux and Len Wiseman) is the only writer of the original who has stayed with this project throughout all three movies.
In keeping with the previous UNDERWORLD movies, a newbie (with plenty of non-directorial credits), SFX artist, Patrick Tatopolos (SE7EN, GODZILLA , SUPERNOVA, PITCH BLACK, BATTLEFIELD EARTH, UNDERWORLD, AVP: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, I, ROBOT, THE CAVE, UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, SILENT HILL, I AM LEGEND, RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION, THE RUINS) was brought in as Director. Since he has been involved with the entire series in one job or another, this wasn’t as much of a stretch for Patrick as it was originally for co-creator Len Wiseman.
A long time ago, there were the children of Corvinus, the vampires and the werewolves. The werewolves were vicious unthinking brutes that, even though they were changleings, were uncivilized and untrainable. Viktor (Bill Nighy: UNDERWORLD [all], SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, AT WORLD’S END), king of the vampires, imprisoned, tortured, and killed them without mercy or thought. But one day, a bitch werewolf gave birth not to a canine cub, but to a human appearing baby. Though this baby was truly a changling, it could, like vampires, pass its abilities on to humans. This made it both dangerous and provacatively desirable. Changeling werewolves in their human form were far stronger than humans, and so were better guards than humans. To the vampire clans, who were most vulnerable during the daylight, such guardians were most coveted. So Viktor named the werewolf baby Lucian, and kept him as a slave. In tribute, the surrounding human villages brought human slaves, which the vampires would have Lucian (Michael Sheen: UNDERWORLD [all]) infect with a bite. Stronger than normal humans, but collared with spikes so that they couldn’t change without decapitating themselves, the lycan slaves were forced to protect the vampire clan.
But every collar was made with a lock, and the key was kept in the vampire armory. Because within the forest, the wild, untameable werewolves – the progeny of the whispered brother, William – encroached ever closer to the vampire domain. Worse come to worse, the lycan slaves would be uncollared to achieve their most powerful form, and fight their wilder werewolf brothers.
The vampires did not look forward to that day, I mean, night; they feared putting such trust in their slaves, and so trained their own kind, the Death Dealers, to ride out at night and fight the wild werewolf hoardes.
One day er, night, a Death Dealer, riding on horseback, gets their ass hounded all the way back to the vampire castle, by bloodthirsty werewolves. Other Death Dealers, armored and manning their battlestations on the castle parapets, fired great spears at and into the oncoming wolfpack. But it was Lucian who fired the kill shot, downing a werewolf, that saved the life of the Death Dealer rider. And this Death Dealer was Sonja (Rhona Mitra: HOLLOWMAN, THE NUMBER 23, DOOMSDAY), daughter of Viktor. Sonja shows no gratitude for having been saved by a slave and Viktor, while casually grateful, never-the-less takes the potential moment of gratitude to remind Lucian of his place and threaten his life for looking upon Sonja instead of averting his gaze.
Classy Viktor, it’s only a matter of time, Massah, when Lucian won’t be your house werewolf no more!
Playing out like a Greek or Shakespearian tragedy, of course Lucian and Sonja are star-crossed lovers. The fact that Sonja is the daughter of the high and most powerful king, Viktor, as well as being one of the twelve members of the council, only adds spice to the dangerous sex the two engage in. Of course, in such tight quarters, its only a matter of time before someone discovers their secret.
Viktor is having a bad time of it. Vampires are losing ground to the werewolf hordes who edge ever nearer to the walls of the vampire castle. They are unsure if they can provide safe passage for the visiting human Nobles who bring the wealth of tribute and food/slaves. Viktor’s leadership is questioned by his decadent council. And on top of everything else, Sonja keeps missing the council meetings. And when even the daughter of the king won’t show up for her own father, the other vampires get uppity.
Viktor does his best to try and reign in his only child, but he’s torn between being a stern disciplinarian and his tender, all-encompassing love for her.
Which only serves to make him sterner, crueler, stricter, and angrier toward everyone else, meting out on them what he can’t bring himself to enforce on Sonja.
Meanwhile, Lucian makes the weapons that Tannis (THE GROTESQUE, THE JACKET, UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION) keeps under lock and key in the armory. Tannis is unaware that Lucian has made a key of his own. But Tannis IS aware of the scandalous affair going on between Lucian and Sonja. So why hasn’t Tannis told Viktor?
UNDERWORLD: THE RISE OF THE LYCANS is a gothic thriller of high political intrigue. Fully fleshed out is the cruel and crumbling government of Viktor, who can rule his people with an iron hand, but cannot govern his lands. Unable to properly feed or protect his people, he can only watch while the vampire kingdom shrinks around them, turning their castle into a prison. As the other vampires witness Viktor’s impotent rule, they draw their plans against him. It’s more than just a matter of appearances to Viktor when Sonja is absent from council. Viktor, aware of an impending power grab from Coloman (David Ashton), NEEDS her there, on his side, to shore up his power. The wild werewolves are not only tightening their loop around the castle, they also blockade the vampires from reaching the ever distant humans, who are beginning to fear them less and less (as their fear of the werewolves grows). The vampires can never travel farther than it would take them to go and return in a single night. The werewolves have no such restrictions.
The fight scenes are, for the most part, well done camera-wise. Although about half of the fight scene shooting relies on the much despised “shaky-camera & tight close-up” style of inept directing. Allan Poppleton (30 DAYS OF NIGHT) was the stunt and fight coordinator (he keeps the actors and stunt folk from getting hurt), but it seems the budget didn’t allow for an actual fight choreographer, which explains why the fight scenes are a drag.
Raze (Kevin Grevioux: PLANET OF THE APES , MEN IN BLACK II, UNDERWORLD, ZMD) returns to where he made his debut, and its nice to see one of the co-creators of this series back in the best of it. Rhona Mitra is also perfectly cast as the true daughter of Viktor. Mitra could nearly pass as Kate Beckinsale’s twin. So it makes Viktor’s later adoption of Selene and his lie of Fatherhood (in the previous UNDERWORLDs), understandable. Uber Goth tragedy!
Not accounting for the fight scenes, the battle scenes and the intrigue were wicked delight. As always, the screen was perpetually dark and blue, but then again, how drenched in Gothic can you get? And these are sun fearing vampires after all. Of course their lives are dark. As a prequel, UNDERWORLD: THE RISE OF THE LYCANS, is the best of the trilogy and I hope it continues to rise from here.