Saturday, January 24, 2009

First Impressions: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Cheese… large pile of camembert…

That is my first impression….

Oh well, you obviously want more and I am here to provide. I went to see this movie last night, which is the third film in the franchise after Underworld and Underworld Evolution. The film, however, is largely different in several ways.

Firstly, it is a prequel, set in some sort of mythical dark age where vampires rule, human’s bring tribute (unaware that the rulers are vampires) and lycans (or werewolves) hunt the night and the ones whose changing can be controlled are slaves to the vampires.

Secondly, Kate Beckinsale is not in the film… ish. Rhona Mitra takes on the female lead, Sonja, and looks awfully like Beckinsale. Beckinsale does appear at the very end of the movie, in a clip from the first film, with a reminder that she was told during that film that Viktor (Bill Nighy) found her reminiscent of his daughter, Sonja, hence why he turned her. Now I have read complaints, Beckinsale’s not in it those complainers say. Let us make it clear that when Len Wiseman announced film 2 and 3, which at the time where to be shot back to back, he always said that film 3 would be a prequel and the character Selene wouldn’t be in it. Its just that… well that brings us to the third big difference.

Len Wiseman hasn’t directed this, it was directed by Patrick Tatopoulos. There is a direction issue that I will go into.

Basic story then. Vampires are fighting Lycans – which are beasts that lose their humanity and can never take human form. However, one Lycan bitch, in captivity, has a child and Viktor goes all soft hearted (which seems out of character) and doesn’t kill it – incidentally the vampire elders Amelia and Marcus are both asleep in their coffins. The child, Lucian (played as an adult by Michael Sheen), grows and can control his lycan side – though it is moon tied. Viktor breeds lycan slaves from Lucian’s infection – stoping them changing at will by putting inward spiked collars on them.

It is odd that he speaks, when observing the child Lucian, to Sonja – who is a child herself. The hint is that she was human until she was changed when she blossomed into womanhood – Viktor mentions her mother dying when she was born – but it is not clearly explored. Be that as it may Sonja and Lucian become adults, he a privileged slave, who is a blacksmith, and she royalty amongst the vampires. She treats him with scorn, publicly, but sneaks off for naked rendezvous with him – which giving the 18 certificate was depressingly tasteful! He has made a key for his collar and wishes her to run away with him but, removing his collar is a punishable act and defiling a vampire… especially if she were to become pregnant with a hybrid…

It is cheese. We can see this in the dialogue. Nighy and Mitra chew up the clunky dialogue with a seriousness that just makes it laughable, especially as the delivery isn’t necessarily that good from Mitra. Unfortunately it does get a bit talky from time to time, which is a shame really as the point of the film is action. Luckily Steven Mackintosh reprises his role as Tannis and brings a fluid natural quality to it that helps off-set the worse excesses and Michael Sheen has returned as Lucian who, like in the first film, is the best thing in the movie (even if he is doing a full on Spartacus at times).

The film, of course, is primarily an action film and there are three big issues here. Firstly it is awfully like Lord of the Rings (in style, not quality – I hasten to add). The vampire armour looks a lot like the elven armour design and the attack of Lycans against the castle wall was so like the Battle of Helms Deep, it was untrue. I thought that as I saw it but perhaps doubted myself. However the two people I went to the cinema with said the same thing, even to the point of wondering whether they had gone mad before saying so. That madness, as it were, stems from the fact that quality wise this is a million miles off. However it underlines that despite a goblet of blood, one bite and some burning in the sun, the vampires may have been anything; their vampiric nature was not overtly explored.

The second issue was inescapable, due to the fact that this was a prequel. The cumulative battle between Lucian and Viktor meant nothing, and had no sense of tension, as we know that they both survive because we saw the first film.

The third and biggest issue, however, was in the direction. Shaky camera work, though not as bad as some recent features, and constant rapid fast cutting do not make for good action sequences and show that the director is either not confident or not very good with action. There are directors out there who are fantastic with action. Far East cinema has spawned more good action directors than you can shake a stick at. One wonders why many films still fail to capitalise on the talent available.

All that said, however, I did enjoy this in a take your brain out popcorn sort of way. I had low expectations going in and so didn’t feel they were dashed and it did what it was meant to do - though not what it believed it should do as it took itself altogether too seriously. It is the weakest of the three movies, of that there is no doubt, but I didn’t feel I had wasted an evening. Incidentally, it was wonderful to see the trailer for Lesbian Vampire Killers on the big screen – now that looks like fun.

A full review, as always, when the DVD becomes available. The imdb page is here and the official site is here.

12 comments:

CrabStiX said...

Taliesin,

I really agree about the action. I yearned for even something as simple as clear, vigorous swordplay as demonstrated, what, 60 years ago by Errol and Basil in Robin Hood... or the more recent balletic perfection displayed in such films as Hero or Crouching Tiger. Instead we were assaulted by ambiguous, at best, slashing, and thrashing with one or two Matrixesque somersaults thrown in! Very disappointing from that perspective.

I must also add the observation that costume was very limited, with the high council, Viktor and the entire vampy entourage never changing clothes throughout it seemed, and Rhona only alternated between chain mail and Victorias Secrets, ahem, chain mail?

You call it cheese... you didn't mention stinky... I vote for very ripe cheese!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

crabstix - to be honest I didn't know that chainmail actually came in body hugging slinky until the movie.

To be fair camembert is a smelly cheese

clark said...

the vampires are going to Isengard

Taliesin_ttlg said...

lol

S. Roit said...

You're definitely not crazy for thinking Helm's Deep. I haven't seen the flick yet, but in the trailers when I saw the lycans running toward the castle, it was my first impression.

But I do enjoy the first two, and I like Bill an awful lot, so I knew all along I'd be going to see this. Shame about the camera work, though. Reminds me of X-men three, the way you describe it. Switched directors to Ratner, who IS an action type director most of the time—but that didn't mean he was good at it.

But anyway, if you still enjoyed it despite some problems, I'm sure I'll have fun with it. I loved the flash backs in the second film, so was encouraged with the idea of a prequel.

(And yah, Tannis. I like him in the second film.)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Sherry, I enjoyed underworld 1 & 2 as well. I think you will like this, so long as you go in with accurate exoectations as it were - because then it does what it says on the tin

S. Roit said...

I may see it next week, week after, depending on funds.

Possibly left field comment here, to you, but I'm also interested in finding out what Michel thinks of it. ;-)

clark said...

Don't know if it's of any help, but further info on the film is available on Wikipedia - just type in the film's title.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Clark

Simon Dyda said...

I've watched an out-of-synch upload of the film online. As you say, it's okay (or at least I imagine it would be when in synch) as long as you don't have expectations. I don't think it will be of much interest to anyone outside of fans of the first two films.

On the other hand, as a vampire-related film, it's a positive masterpiece next to Twilight.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hiyah Simon. You're right - probably not of interest to anyone who has not seen the first two films.

Hopefully, however, I can convert you to Twilight... no, not the original, but do check out the bunny version!

Simon Dyda said...

\hah yes, I saw that on your blog earlier and had it twittered. Definately better than the original!