Now here's a franchise that didn't deserve one more installment in the series, much less two. I remember sitting down in the theater for the original film way back in 2003 expecting nothing less than an epic showdown between some werewolves and vampires. With that premise, what's not to like? As it turned out, nearly all of it.
To be fair, I was in love with the Blade franchise and expected Underworld to be its female counterpart. I was merely a teenager, naive and stupid to go into an unrelated movie with such high expectations, but I did and it didn't meet those lofty goals I had unfairly set for it. Due to my disappointment, I never checked out the second film and walked into this one with extremely low expectations. With that said, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, the prequel to the original picture, is not the horrid abomination it could have been and actually managed to keep me somewhat entertained for its duration, although I just can't bring myself to recommend it.
I'll give it to you straight. I don't really remember much of the set-up to this movie. There is a brief prologue that gives you the gist of how the Lycans came into being, but by this time I had already brushed the story off as nonsense. Sue me. So here's my interpretation of its synopsis. Thanks to some freaky werewolf-vampire sex, a child is born with big baby balls and the vampire leader decides to let it live, despite the hybrid's unpure blood. These big-balled, freaky sex creatures are known as Lycans and are basically slaves to the vampires. One day, Lucian (Michael Sheen), one of the Lycan leaders, decides to rebel and escapes only to leave his love, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), a pure vampire, behind. Sonja's father finds out about their relationship, isn't happy about it, and locks her up. So Lucian and his balls decide to go back and free her.
Or something like that. The story is nearly irrelevant because seriously, who goes to see Underworld for the narrative? I know I don't. In a film about an epic struggle between vampires and werewolves, I just want to see the two factions go at it for two hours. This is where the "be careful what you wish for" phrase comes into play. There's plenty of action in the film, but the problem is the way it was executed. While some action scenes were exciting and well staged, more often than not you couldn't see what was going on due to the shaky camera and quick cutting. This technique has been used in many films, including the much praised Bourne trilogy. But at least in the Bourne trilogy, there is an engaging story to wrap your brain around. As I've said before, the story isn't this franchise's strong suit.
However, when the film does attempt to delve into story-mode, it fails almost entirely. There were way too many instances of forced dialogue (complete with the cheese) that had me rolling my eyes more times than I can count. The story is basically Romeo & Juliet, only with werewolves and vampires rather than fueding families. And boy, is it exhausting. Not for one second is Lucian and Sonja's love story engaging.
The film has other little problems as well, like the liberties that were taken with the laws of physics and a seizure-inducing fight scene where lightning struck at what seemed to be one second intervals. Still, this is a visually engaging movie. It's dark, atmospheric, brooding, and ominous and it played to the strengths of the gothic setting. By and large, the film looked just fine and the acting was better than expected. But there's no escaping the absurdity of the story and the sometimes overbearing action scenes. Since I hated the first film and went into this one with such low expectations, I came out feeling somewhat satisfied because the picture is much better than it should be, although I'm not sure that's saying all that much. When all is said and done, I cannot recommend Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans receives 2/5