Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – review


Directed by: Patrick Tatopoulos

Release date: 2009

Contains spoilers

After watching the DVD of this, and before committing my review to word, I decided to reread the first impression I wrote having just watched it at the cinema. Now, I might have linked that but please don’t go and read it as my opinion really hasn’t changed. Therefore what you get here is going to be fairly similar with a score at the end.

However, having made some notes – a luxury not available in the dark embrace of the cinema experience – you might get a few continuity points that have reared their ugly heads.

Be that as it may, this is the third film in the franchise that first brought us Underworld and Underworld Evolution. This is a prequel to the first two films, set in some indeterminate Middle Ages type time, so goodbye guns with UV bullets and set pieces with helicopters and hello Lord of the Rings – for this owes a lot to Peter Jackson’s opus. Much of the story is already known – so how they managed to seemingly bollocks up the back story quite so well is unknown.

Lucian bornIt is twenty years after the Children of Corvinus were infected. There are two bloodlines – werewolves and vampires. Now, these really are werewolves, they are not called lycans yet. The werewolves cannot transform (which was the whole point I thought) and become permanent ravening beasts. That is until a bitch, in captivity, gives birth to a human child – Lucian (Michael Sheen) the first actual lycan. Viktor (Bill Nighy) takes pity and we wonder at his soft hearted nature (given his general character through the film). We also wonder why the werewolf was held in a cell at all…

Bill Nighy as VictorAnyway, the child grows and shows extraordinary resilience and strength. Viktor, who has a daughter Sonja (who will grow to be Rhona Mitra), decides to make others from his bite, throwing slaves into a cell with Lucian when the boy transforms and infecting them with Lucian’s lycan strain. These are then given locked collars with inwards pointing silver spikes – so, if they transform they will die. This is out with the thought in the first film that only older lycans could control the change outside (and during) the lunar cycle (a fact forgotten in this, and there can be no argument that older means generational, rather than age in centuries passed, as Michael in Underworld is turned by Lucian).

Galloping WolfAs the film begins proper we see a horse rider in armour heading through the countryside. In the vampires' council chambers a discussion is held about the human nobles who are attacked by the wolves. Those wolves chase the rider, who fights them whilst at full pelt. Lucian is a privileged slave, having a position as blacksmith. He realises what is occurring and manages to kill three of the wolves chasing the rider – who happens to be Sonja. His help is met by derision by her, and Viktor warns him to keep his eyes to the floor. She is in trouble with her father as she was meant to be in council and not patrolling.

Rhona Mitra as SonjaHaving intervened with a slave overseer as the vampire whips fellow lycans (leading to a dislike between overseer and slave that is slightly explored but could have stood expansion), Lucian manages to sneak off through a grate where he meets up with… Sonja… not a shock to those who have watched the first film and, to be honest, if you haven’t I can’t see why this prequel would have any draw but… her public displays of derision are a cover for their love and they have some naked rumpy. He has made a key for his collar but wants her to leave with him.

Lucian in Lycan formShe won’t but, when she rides to escort human nobles… against her fathers wishes… he realises that there are an awful lot of werewolves out there, steals a horse and rides to defend her. The wolves seem a little more organised than beasts, using tunnels to ambush the nobles. Lucian rides to the rescue but they are outnumbered. With only human slave Raze (Kevin Grevioux), Sonja and himself still in the fight, Lucian removes his collar and transforms. He seems to have command over the werewolves who slink off, but removing his collar gets him whipped, thrown in jail and on route to execution. He has realised that the vampire Tannis (Steven Mackintosh) might hold the key to their freedom…

Sonja executedLong story, short… he escapes with some of the lycans. She is captured. He goes back for her. She is pregnant with a hybrid child and is killed by her father as Lucian is forced to watch. He is escaping again when the lycans and werewolves storm the castle. So… plot holes first… by the first film Sonja was blonde… her hair colour has been changed in this to make her look more like Selene (Kate Beckinsale). Talking of whom, the pendant Sonja had – that Viktor gave her as a child and Lucian steals following her execution – was part of the key to the prison of William (the original werewolf). Selene’s father built the prison (we discover in the second film) and so she should have been an adult and turned (presumably) at this point. However the first film suggests she was turned some considerable time after these events. This is the seemingly bollocked up back story, now I could come up with a convoluted rescue premise... its a shame that the writers didn’t.

Kevin Grevioux as RazeI might also ask why Raze wasn’t given a collar when turned into lycan – he was the only one without collar. However, first we must ask what was the point in having the vampires in this at all? Sure they burn in the sun, have fangs and occasionally drink blood (one goblet and one bite) but generally they might have been anything… the vampire nature was almost secondary. To be fair the interesting premise of blood memories was used (once) but discussions such as, was Sonja born human and turned at adulthood, were not explored. I will state that Sonja’s eyes changing between brown and blue was not a continuity error – Selene’s did the same in the other films – turning blue at intense violent/emotional moments. One then wonders about Viktor's mental state given his constantly intense blue eyes.

Alien... I mean Underworld 3The action sequences are marred by fast cuts and the attack on the castle was very reminiscent of Lord of the Rings – in fact the vampire armour looked suspiciously like elven armour. The film is not only referential to Lord of the Rings, however, Lucian meeting the werewolves was lifted from Alien visually. As pointed out, in the comments on my first impression, the Middle Ages provided Victoria Secret style figure hugging chainmail – I suppose an advantage of being a vampire is that you don’t have to worry about chaffing.

the gore levels were upNighy and Mitra chew the scenery with a seriousness that is amusing but Mackintosh and Sheen bring a worryingly large amount of skill to bear for a production of this nature and their skill shines through. One does get a sense that Sheen would dearly love to play Spartacus in a remake and his performance here indicates he would probably be rather good in it. The gore levels are nicely up, despite said fast cuts. The nudity is despairingly absent, strange given the fact that the gore ensures that this has an 18 certificate anyway.

a sword through the head cannot stop meThe biggest problem with this is that there is absolutely no sense of tension. We know that Sonja will die – it was filmed for the first film with an inconsistent set. We know that Viktor and Lucian will survive – they were major characters in the first film. Hell we even know that second fiddle Raze (he was in the first film) and Tannis (he was in the second film) will survive. Even a sword through the back of the head doesn’t hold any interest because we know Viktor survives it. The only thing I was left wondering was how the evidently ineffectual vampires ever managed to get the upper hand by the time of the first film.

This is cheese, I said it in my first impression and I say it again now. But it is nice enough cheese if you know what you are going to get. It can’t hold tension, by its very nature, and the direction could have been so much better. It does remind one of the discredited philosophy of eugenics – for this seems to be Viktor’s basic philosophy – a landed class overseeing a slave class of workers bred for purpose, and controlled in their breeding, with no cross class breeding allowed. That fits with my bourgeoisie vs. proletariat theorum that I mentioned in the review of the first film and offers the film a sinister undertone that wasn’t explored in any knowing detail… the action fast cuts deemed more important than any subtext of sociopolitical commentary (if they even knew it was there).

4.5 out of 10, seems fair as it does what it says on the tin but fails to rise as the title would suggest. The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, it was a bad idea. I'll probably buy the DVD when it drops to £3 just to complete the collection, but not before then.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Simon - the killer is that I actually bought the first film twice, when they released the extended cut.

Everlost said...

scarily enough, we watched this last night...nice surprise to see it on the blog today!

I guess this film was kinda like watching a formula one grand prix... you know exactly how it is going to finish by the end of the first corner. Worst thing for me...ignoring the plot holes, (and the vampires that die from a throat cut, while Viktor survives a sword through the head) was the "oh...i'll not check the bad guy is dead, i know i'll drop him in the mucky water, THAT will teach him to mess with me"

Film looked ok, but i think that knowing exactly who was going to make it through to the end alive made it pointless... why make this when there is no tension in any of it, even the hangers-on you know are going to survive!

Only reason i can see is for blokes to admire the skintight chainmail on Rhona Mitre and for my missus to drool over Lucien (again). Spot on review again, mister Taliesin!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers everlost - the analogy with Formula 1 is quite good... to be fair to Lucian why check the bad guy is dead, having stabbed him through the head with a sword - when throat cutting works on vampires evidentially