The Story: Going back in time before the first Underworld film, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans tells the tale of how the vampire Viktor (Bill Nighy) and the werewolf Lucian (Michael Sheen) became bitter enemies. Raised by Viktor from boyhood, Lucian becomes the head vampire’s “pet.” When Lucian falls in love with Viktor’s beloved daughter Sonya (Rhona Mitra), Viktor decides to kill Lucian. Rounding up the rest of the imprisoned Lycans, Lucian starts a massive war that pits vampire and werewolf against each other, and sets up the strife that Selene faced in the original Underworld.
Pros: I’m a fan of the Underworld series, although the sequel was a massive disappointment. Rise of the Lycans is redemption for the franchise and I was surprised it was as good as it was. The story of how the vampires and werewolves came to hate each other was discussed in the first film but this prequel goes in-depth, showing how vampires once corralled and imprisoned the Lycans while ruling the townsfolk in the village. You see how Lucian became the person he is and why Viktor takes such a liking to Selene in the first film. This is a definite must-see if you loved the first Underworld as it returns familiar characters to familiar settings. While original director Len Wiseman isn’t helming this installment, new director Patrick Tatopoulos knows what the fans want in the series and delivers. The ending battle sequence is total joy for fans of werewolves and vampires. It’s a massive fight scene that pulls no punches. It movie is rated R so the violence is intense. There’s also a perfect scene at the end of Kate Beckinsale, while she’s not returning to the franchise they do recycle footage from the first film that seems to complete the circle.
Cons: I did have a few issues with this movie, one being that 90% of it is in total darkness. I had a hell of a time during the fight sequence at the end identifying who was who. It didn’t seem to bother so much in one but here it seems like whole segments of the film are pitch black. I also really hated that the finale seemed so short. There is quite a bit of time devoted to character development and plot and when the big fight comes it just seems short, a problem I had with Incredible Hulk.
Acting: If we didn’t have the return of some core characters I doubt I would be praising Rise of the Lycans. Bill Nighy is always solid but here he’s just terrifying as Viktor. His scenes with Sheen are the best because both don’t have to back down since they’re on equal footing. It’s also interesting to see his relationship with Mitra who plays his daughter, the scene where he finds out about her relationship was amazing. Michael Sheen does a complete 180 from his role in Frost/Nixon. Here he’s a force to be reckoned with physically and mentally. He comes off as confident and aggressive yet loves Sonya. Rhona Mitra is new to the series as the vampire Sonya. She does well with the role but really it’s a clone of Beckinsale’s character from the first movie and Mitra seems to be phoning in a direct copy of the previous heroine.
Overall: I enjoyed Underworld: Rise of the Lycans a lot more than I expected to. There are a few missteps and it doesn’t surpass the first film but the acting is solid and the story is engaging. True fans of the franchise will want to check this out to complete the series. I give it a 3.5/5.