Director: Patrick Tatopoulos
Cast: Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra
Hot on the heels of last month’s teen-vamp juggernaut Twilight comes the third instalment of popcorn goth franchise Underworld, subtitled Rise Of The Lycans. If the timing didn’t already seem futile in the wake of those brooding pubescents, then imagine trying to sell Underworld minus its Kate Beckinsale.
Under the circumstances it hardly seems credible that there would be enough goodwill left for a series that had already run its course to return without its black-leather clad starlet. Nevertheless, here we are again: werewolves versus vampires; this time it’s history! Operating under the presumption that no franchise worth its salt should be without a prequel in today’s serialised cinema, producer Len Wiseman takes the Underworld mythos back a thousand years to the beginning of war between the two fanged frenimies.
If you missed the first two instalments that might not exactly be a bad thing because Rise Of The Lycans, whilst filling in the back-story of Underworld, effectively recycles the retelling of Romeo and Juliet from the 2003 release. Bill Nighy reprises his role as Viktor, leader of the aristocratic, immortal Vampire creed who have enslaved their Lycan cousins. The Lycans had been purely animal in form until the birth of Lucian (played once again by Michael Sheen), the first werewolf with they ability to interchange with human form.
Viktor’s got a soft spot for Lucian, who he sees as part protégé part pet complete with fido collar that prevents him and the other Lycans from transforming into werewolves and running amok. Viktor’s daughter Sonja (Beckinsale-alike Rhona Mitra) has got a soft spot for Lucian too, but not the kind that daddy would approve of.
Rather awkwardly, director Tatopoulos chooses to reveal their love in a fleshly sequence of interspecies relations that manages to be gratuitous to the point of distraction without showing anything more than two thronging bodies in the heat of passion. It’s not long before Lucian and Sonja’s secret is uncovered which leads to the necessary betrayal, rebellion and finally a good old-fashioned smackdown between vamps and wolves for the film to ticks all its boxes.
Tatopoulos' handling of the unholy romp becomes a reflection of most the elements in Rise Of The Lycans. Everything from Sheen’s Spartacus-evoking speeches, vampire dress chic, cockney-geezer guards and Shakespearean tragedy are laid on so thick it makes the original Underworld look the very example of subtle filmmaking.
But it is also in this regard that any of the fun from ROTL can be derived with Nighy finding his usual fine form, enunciating his way through every ham-fisted piece of dialogue. Despite starring roles it is Mitra and Sheen who provide the support as Nighy carries the franchise to the finish line amidst largely poor CGI, disguised only by the night settings of most the films major set pieces.
With the trilogy complete; sequel and prequel wrapped up nicely – all that’s left is for the fashionable series reboot. Perhaps the West Side Story version, Underworld 4.0: this time it’s musical.
Published in issue 944 of 3D World.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Director: Patrick Tatopoulos