26 May 2009

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

The ancient feud between Werewolves (aka Lycans) and Vampires had a beginning. The first two Underworld movies were set in modern day as Vampires and Lycans blasted away at each other with machine guns and high-tech toys. In the modern day, Viktor (Bill Nighy) meets his end, there comes a hybrid of the Lycans and Vampires. Centuries earlier, Viktor was a king-- he held sway over lesser Vampires as well as the lords of the nearby human lands. He and his undead held court. Humans accept Viktor's reign in exchange for his promise of relief from the onslaught of Werewolves. Past their supernatural origins, Werewolves were polar opposite of Vampires: feral, cursed, once men but doomed to live our their lives as vicious predators in animal form. Viktor found a Werewolf that gave birth to a human-appearing child. He killed the Werewolf, but took her baby, named it Lucian, and raised him in his castle. When Werewolves bite humans, they transfer the curse to their victims. Lucian was different: he could transform into Lycan form and back into human form. As a Lycan, his bite would infect victims with his variation of lycanthropy-- they could go to and from human form. The Vampires ruled the night but could not survive the day-- they needed the Lycans as servants and daytime protectors-- slaves. As we all know, slaves rebel. Viktor's daughter, Sonja, eventually joins the Vampire ranks after spending her childhood growing up sharing the castle with Lucian as he too grew up. Sonja is in love with Lucian. When Viktor discovers their secret love and the unborn Vampire/Lycan baby she bears, he puts her to death. Open revolts breaks out between the Lycans and the Vampires. In this medieval battle, the stage is set for the latter events of the first two movies.

The first two movies were written and directed by Len Wiseman. This time, Patrick Tatopolous directs the movie. Most of his movie credits involve technical world as a creature designer or costumer. Being a designer doesn't preclude someone from being good as a director (eg. Len Wiseman's art production background as well as Guillermo del Toro's origins), but Tatopolous may be stronger in the workshop than behind the camera. Tatopolous is stuck on one palette in this movie: blue. Dark, light, dull blue. Blue! The piercing blue eyes of Bill Nighy was very impressive; but there is a scene where Werewolves are lying await in the night in some foilage and there is almost no way to tell what is what. It was like an extra layer of macrovision copy protection at points, where you have guess with dark blue is connected to someone with a sword or a set of fangs.

This movie has a couple unenviable stumbling blocks. Preclude can be claustrophobic-- you know characters who appear in earliers movies will make it out alive of the latter prequel. This movie definitely goes down that road. Also, it feels like there is some franchise fatigue. The first two movies has Scott Speedman and Kate Beckinsale in front of the camera; with Len Wiseman behind the lens and scripting. The signifigant players (Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen with Kevin Grevioux) do return to color in the start of this feud. Beckinsale's role of Selena is replaced by lookalike Rhona Mitra playing Sonja-- this was set-up in the first movie and paid off here. Danny McBride (stuntman and contributor to all three movies) and Dirk Blackman (who's credits are this movie and the Viking-Alien epic, Outlander) penned this movie in Wiseman's place.

This movie is just what the title implies: it's the origin story of the Lycans and much of the movie centers around those creatures and characters. You don't see the Vampires in all their glory (almost done of the "Dracula" bag of tricks come into play-- no turning into bats, rats or wolves, nada). Nor is there the angry villager bent. Humans are backdrop: they express displeasure with Viktor like they were townspeople lipping off to the city comptroller. There is some much great potential from this concept and much of it boils down to cool sword battles, some great CGI of Werewolves and Lycans laying seige to a castle; and some naked side-hip action from Mitra and Sheen. As way to close off the franchise, this movie does accomplish that, but it falls well short of surprising you or giving you something new.

DVD Extras: The special featurettes talk about the production of the movie and the inner workings of the feud between Lycans and their former masters. There is a filmmakers's commentary where he details the production from his perspective.


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