To truly, remarkably appreciate Underworld: The Rise of the Lycans, do yourself a favor and watch Frost/Nixon first. Really. Because even though Michael Sheen was in the first two installments of Underworld, unless you’re actually a fan of the guy and have tracked his career, it probably won’t occur to you that it’s the same Michael Sheen that’s actually gained some mainstream notoriety since Evolution. Fifteen minutes into Rise of the Lycans, you’ll be like: Where do I know that dude with the Jesus Christ extensions and the wispy Rob Zombie beard from? Oh, wait. Dude! That’s frickin’ David Frost. And then you just try not to picture Lucian — the Lycan messiah — going apeshit werewolf on Richard Nixon during those historic interviews (or, for that matter, you can also picture Sheen’s Tony Blair in The Queen mauling Helen Mirren to death. It makes for a heightened cinematic experience).
It’s also appropriate that Rise of the Lycans would star the classically trained Sheen (who studied at the Royal Academy of the Art) and Bill Nighy, who has extensive theater experience, because Lycans is bloody Shakespearean. I don’t mean it’s full of iambic pentameter and and high-fallutin’, nancy-pantsy double-speak. I mean: Lycans’ plot is Romeo and Juliet inspired. The Vampires (the Montagues) led by Viktor (Nighy) and the Lycans (the Capulets), led by their Kolbaby, Lucian (Sheen), aren’t particular fond of each other. And those Capulets are some bad motherfuckers. Lucian, you’ll recall from Undeworld (you are free to ignore Evolution and, in fact, are encouraged to do so), was the ancient leader of the Lycans. Rise of the Lycans is his origins story.
See: Way back in the day, the Lycans were slaves and protectors of the Aristocratic Vamps. They were bred by the vampires to protect their castle during the day, on account of the vampires’ ineffectiveness in sunlight (it’s terrible for their skin). Lucian grew up in the castle and began, at least, as Viktor’s favorite — his pet Lycan. He was also secretly fucking Viktor’s daughter, Sonja (Rhona Mitra). Well, secrets have a way of leaking out (literally, the truth is in their blood — apparently, vampires can read the thoughts of other vampire by slurping on their hemoglobin). And once Viktor found out that Lucian was were-boning his daughter, lashes and death sentences were dealt out.
So, what’s a Lycan to do? Obviously, he does his best Gerard Butler impression (We! Are! Lycans!), and rallies his back-haired troops to his defense (note, also, that Sheen does Butler better than Butler does). He and a few of his half-blood mutts escape from the castle, regroup, and the fight of the century is on. It’s like the medieval Holyfield vs. Tyson, only Sheen sure is purty when he’s got his shirt off and his prancing around like a Lycan Rock-Star Jesus.
Without Len Wiseman or Kate Beckinsale attached, I was expecting a straight-to-DVD type knockoff. And, indeed, Rise of the Lycans, from director Patrick Tatopoulos (he did the special effects for the first two flicks) is considerably less stylized that Wiseman’s entries, but that actually works to its advantage — Wiseman’s faux Matrix shenanigans would’ve seemed out of place during the middle ages, and Tatopoulos brings to it that B-level of campy competence that the trilogy actually deserves. Still, it’s not a particularly memorable pic, but for fans of the first installment of the Underworld trilogy (and that should be anyone with a hard-on for black leather and fangs), Rise of the Lycans embodies the same guilty-pleasure spirit. It’s got all the elements for a nice, disposable vampire flick: Swords, mayhem, blood, hambone lines, blue-piercing eyes, sweat, grime, and Rhona Mitra’s perpetual blowjob face (seriously, though: Stay away from the vampire fellatio, kids). This one, like Underworld, has the added benefit of Nighy’s competence and Sheen’s kickassery (he looks considerably less like he did in the original, where he was all goth-pansy, and looked awfully similar to Paul Reubens in Buffy). Sure, Rise of the Lycans contains a shitload of empty calories, but there’s a lot of butter on them. It may be 90 minutes of filler material, but at least it’s tasty.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives withi his wife and son in Portland, Maine You can reach him via email, or leave a comment below.
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans / Dustin Rowles
Film | January 23, 2009 | Comments ()