Eric D. Snider

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Movie Review

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: C-

Released: January 23, 2009


Directed by:


If you are interested in the mythology created by "Underworld" and its sequel, "Underworld: Evolution," then surely you will enjoy "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans," which goes back in time to tell us what happened before the first film. As far as I can tell without being interested, the prequel does a fine job of bringing fans up to speed.

As a movie, though, it's as confused and cheesy as its predecessors. The creators (a total of five men are credited with the story and screenplay) seem to have abandoned all hope of manufacturing anything that's even coherent, let alone imaginative. First-time director Patrick Tatopoulos (an experienced special-effects and production designer) maintains the series' steel-blue look and sober, self-serious attitude -- the soundtrack needs more emo songs -- but what does he have to work with? There's a lot of talking, a lot of growling and threatening, a big battle, plenty of spurting blood, and everyone goes home. The end.

The British actor Michael Sheen, having earned raves for his portrayals of Tony Blair and David Frost, now stars as a werewolf. His name is Lucian, and he lives in the early days of the vampires and werewolves -- two decades since the species were created, the narrator tells us, omitting the suddenly interesting detail of how they were created, and by whom. Vampires live apart from the humans in their own Gothic-looking medieval kingdom, and their leader, Viktor (Bill Nighy), has figured out how to make the werewolves into slaves based on the DNA (or something) of Lucian, who has the ability to shift from human to wolf shape at will, which was a rarity in those days.

So Viktor has this race of werewolves -- I'm sorry, lycans -- as his slaves, and Lucian foments revolution against their oppressors like a hirsute Che Guevara, and he's also in love with Viktor's vampire daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra), and there you go.

Hmm. Apparently the movie has even less story than I thought it did, since I just summarized the entire thing in two paragraphs. Enjoy!

Note: Contrary to regular industry practice, this film was not screened for critics before opening.

Grade: C-

Rated R, some sex and partial nudity, a lot of bloody violence

1 hr., 32 min.

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This item has 8 comments

  1. Scott says:

    Underworld and its sequel are my guilty pleasures. They're dumb, I know they're dumb, and yet I still enjoy watching. Probably 80% of why I enjoy them is Kate Beckinsale, who, alas, is not appearing in this film. The backstory regarding who created the species and why was explained in Underworld: Evolution. This movie gets into why the vampires are fighting lycans in the first place.

    I definitely fit into your first paragraph's category of fans. Sounds like a guilty pleasure for DVD, though, rather than appearing in public to pay twice the price to see it.

  2. Russ says:

    Well said Scott. I've seen the first 2 movies multiple times, though I don't think they're particularly amazing.

    It was disappointing to me for this to be a prequel without Kate Beckinsale, because she's the best part of this whole franchise. It was interesting that they've been able to keep every other major character as the same actor though, that surprised me.

    I enjoyed this movie for the EXACT reason that you didn't like it, the un-explanations. I am constantly irritated by sequels that feel the need to refresh your knowledge of the previous installments at every turn. Underworld: RotL does NOT do this. You have to rely on the name drops, the characters' appearances, and what you know from the first two movies.

    As a movie critic, this is probably a deal killer. As someone who doesn't need to be refreshed on the story, it was perfect. (Yes, sure there were still corny parts, and my favorite character was missing. Whatever though, maybe they'll make a 4th one now, and put Kate back in.)

  3. Russ says:

    Sorry, I meant "I enjoyed this movie for the EXACT reason that Eric didn't like it"

  4. Kaydria says:

    WHY Bill Nighy The British Guy? WHY? You're so much better than this :(

  5. Bob says:

    Poor review. Very poor and innaccurate. If you hate the genre that much, don't bother reviewing the movies.

  6. cody says:

    freaking awsome movie amazing special effects the werewolves seem so real

  7. Scott says:

    Follow-up to my original comment, now that I've actually seen the movie (on DVD, as promised):

    Ugh. This was a prequel story that did not need to be fleshed out. The general explanation was already presented during the first two Underworld movies (primarily the original) through dialog and flashbacks. I'm left wondering what this really added to the mythology of the series. The only new item of interest, story-wise, was the formation of the friendship between Lucian and Raze (Kevin Grevioux - the deep-voiced lycan), which is pretty obscure and not even of particular interest to the plot. I keep thinking back to Revenge of the Sith... most every Star Wars geek (myself included) already knew the general story of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, but we all wanted to see the details to find out how that tied in with the rest of the story. Here, though, we already know the basics of the Lucian and Sonja story, and so we didn't need 92 minutes of darkness, howling, and special-effects blood to underscore it.

  8. Plan says:

    "Underworld and its sequel are my guilty pleasures. They're dumb, I know they're dumb, and yet I still enjoy watching. Probably 80% of why I enjoy them is Kate Beckinsale, who, alas, is not appearing in this film."

    Same here. I can recognize the bad plots and writing for what they are and still enjoy these movies, mostly for Kate Beckinsale, but also for the fantastic shots of Budapest and its surrounding countryside in the first movie.

    I find it odd, though, that this review trashed the third installment as incoherent when it was actually light-years ahead of the previous two in terms of plot. It's not top-notch writing by any means, but it makes a lot more sense than the other two.

    As others have pointed out, it was actually the last film that explained how the vampire and lycan races were born -- this one was focused on the backstory of the lycans as former slaves of the vampires.

    And while the series has many flaws, it's difficult to claim Michael Sheen was one of them. The guy's a great actor, even when he's working with subpar lines, and it shows -- he even makes cheesy action movie one-liners sound good. If a guy like Sheen puts so much effort into a role that doesn't demand much, imagine what he can do when he's working with good writers and a more experienced director.

    But overall, despite the lack of Kate Beckinsale, this move was pretty damn decent, and a lot better than what I was expecting going into it.

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