FILM REVIEW: Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans

18 • 93 mins • 23 January

Director: Patrick Tatopoulos

Cast: Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra, Steven Mackintosh, Kevin Grevioux

Rating:

When a franchise starts promoting minor characters to top billing, it’s usually time to jump ship – and considering the first two Underworld movies were far from classics, it’d be easy to expect this medieval-set prequel to be a dead loss. However, in Underworld: Rise Of The Lycan’s case, we’re talking about minor characters played by top-calibre actors like Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy, and they’re both impressive enough to turn this amped-up horror-actioner into something more watchable than you might expect.

Set at some undisclosed time in the Middle Ages, the plot essentially fills out the backstory of the first movie’s vengeful werewolf Lucien (Sheen) and his vendetta against evil vamp overlord Viktor (a splendidly reptilian Nighy). Starting out as a favoured slave of the vampires, Lucien also ends up conducting a secret cross-species affair with Viktor’s daughter Sonja (Mitra), but his rebellious nature soon sees him thrown in prison. Before you can say “I’m Spartacus”, he’s breaking out and setting off an uprising, leading to plenty of frenetic violence and some hilariously splashy gore.

As it turns out, Underworld’s vamps-vs-werewolves concept plays much better in a medieval setting, and the film has an enjoyably muscular ’80s fantasy feel, while it’s helped immeasurably by the three strong central performances (even from Rhona Mitra, making up for her dull turn in Doomsday). There’s plenty of lurid fun to be had here, but there are also some very familiar problems, including clunky werewolf design, over-edited fight sequences and a decidedly flat tone. It may be a definite upswing in quality for the series, but if you thought the previous two films were overblown goth-horror nonsense, Rise Of The Lycans really isn’t going to change your mind…

Saxon Bullock