Unnecessary, If Not Useless Threequel

This unnecessary, if not useless threequel, Underworld : Rise Of The Lycans is the third in the uninspired Underworld series serving as a prequel, seeking to explain in greater detail the pointless mythologizing plot turns discussed so endlessly in the very first Underworld movie: How and why vampires and werewolves came to so despise each other (like audience care why they do). It explained how vampires and werewolves came to be at each others’ throats.

The reasons, it turns out—no surprise there—are not dissimilar to what we all vaguely recall as the central conflict from the first film. Set close to 1,000 years before the action of the previous films — 2003’s Underworld and 2006’s Underworld: Evolution, the tale of the grudge between werewolves and vampires as Lycans transforms into a Spartacus with fangs in the third film. In rustic blueland, the vampires and their leader have holed up in an enormous castle and lord over the humans, employing Lycans as slaves and as a security system against the wilder, permanently beastly werewolves. They have enslaved the first Lycans, keeping them from transforming into werewolves with these magical lock-collars.

Lucian, the first Lycan (Michael Sheen), a lowly part-human-part-werewolf chief blacksmith kept around to kill “your own kind” (aka werewolves), must lead the other Lycans to freedom. Lucian’s story and Moses’ in the Exodus may seem analogous as he gradually sides with his oppressed fellow Lycans, whom the vampires, realizing their potential strength, have successively bred as slaves. Head vampire Viktor (Billy Nighy) is not about to let his slaves revolt, even if Lucian is “a credit to your race.” With the setting for their affair as an unnamed and presumably European medieval land, Lucian’s dealings with Viktor are further complicated by his forbidden romance with the sovereign’s independent-minded daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra). Lucian and Viktor began a centuries-arch feud when the parvenue hairy romanced the bloodsucker’s favorite daughter Sonja. The anti-lycan tyranny threatens to tear Sonja and Lucian apart and she eventually joins him in a battle against the bloodsuckers.

This film offers very few surprises other than Sheen’s vigorously physical performance. Nighy is a skilled and anticipated scene-stealer, but it’s a special treat to watch Sheen turn into a plausible action hero, fighting for Lycan freedom and delivering more than half of his lines through clenched teeth. Tricked out in leather and heavy metal hair, Sheen takes a lively break from his usual high-crust duties to bring sense, actual acting and some unexpected musculature to this horror flick. There is, as it turns out, some benefit to having a real performance even in a formulaic entertainment. Sheen appears to have taken his monster duties seriously. His eyes pop with menace, and he howls up a mighty storm. “You have a choice,” he bellows, “freedom, instead of pestilence” and slavery. This Braveheart wannabe wants to drive a stake through the heart of their masters. His value is particularly evident during the various fight sequences, which come across as dispensable chaotic. It’s at moments like these that Sheen’s bright eyes become beacons, two points of light in the murky dark.

Awkwardly, the rest of the film is something of a disappointment. Sheen and Nighy are both capable of good performances, but here they indulge in pompous, operatic overplaying. Yet he’s not well-matched with Mitra, and Sonja’s role eventually takes a turn for the passive. That proves to be a major disappointment, considering a third entry of film with Kate Beckinsale’s ass-kicking in the first two. Mitra, like everyone else, nevertheless gives the material more peremptory than viewers might think necessary or even possible. Nobody else is of much importance. She is also not so great at selling the tragic love story side of things. The supporting characters are unpalatably under-written, so it’s hard to care about anyone other than Lucian, who we already know will survive.

Moreover, the film isn’t remotely scary and the oftentimes evasively tricky CGI makes the fight scenes choppily edited, so that it’s often hard to tell or even care who’s killing who. The mixture of computer and practical effects are far from cutting edge, and therefore unconvincing and not neat. It would be deceptive to describe Underworld: Rise of the Lycans as a well-crafted flick because it’s derivative and silly, and still inescapably inessential. It’s not a very comfortable visual experience, but that won’t be a problem for fans of the first two installments, and it probably won’t be in this case either.

As dusty and droughty as a vampire’s crypt, Director Tatopoulos’ grim feature debut uses the slavery freedom as a lame excuse for mindless bloodletting for the third installment in the horror action franchise, as part ridiculous tragic romance and part ridiculous action flick. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is every bit as empty and dreary as its predecessors. It’s not significantly worse, but then they set a very low bar. It results in an exercise in Goth excess without a glimmer of ingenuity sent to stupefy the unwary. The effects-designer-turned-director of Lycans can stage great-looking situations but has few ideas about characters and plots. It’s so inconceivable to care about the characters in the film that no one should care if the vampires or werewolves won.
Rating: 1.5/5

To see Underworld : Rise Of The Lycans in theatres, check your local listings, or visit the http://www.entertheunderworld.com

Criticetc is a journalism/film/book critic in Bangkok and Pattaya, and at http://www.pattayacitylive.com  and http://www.cinemainreview.com

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