In Defense of 'Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,' The Greatest Movie Ever Made
Earlier this week, in his review of Underworld: Blood Wars (a terrible and yet objectively good film where Kate Beckinsale rips a dude’s spine out), TK made the unfounded and frankly scurrilous accusation that 2009’s Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is the worst of the Underworld films. Readers, I take umbrage. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is not only the BEST Underworld film, it is very possibly— and I know this is a bold claim, because Monster Trucks exists—the best film of all time.
Allow me to explain.
Though the third film in the Underworld franchise, Rise of the Lycans is the first chronologically, as it scoots back in time a few hundred years to tackle the backstory of Michael Sheen’s baddie Lucian. Usual series star Kate Beckinsale isn’t present at all, except for an intro voiceover where she explains how Lucian was the first ever Lycan, “a new race of immortals: Werewolf, but also human.” KATE, “WEREWOLF, BUT ALSO HUMAN” IS JUST A WEREWOLF. A WEREWOLF IS, BY DEFINITION, PART-HUMAN. Except in the Underworld-verse, that is, where werewolves are stuck in wolf form, whereas Lycans can turn human whenever they want. It’s a bogus explanation of why Underworld says “Lycan” instead of “werewolf” (YOU USE IT BECAUSE IT SOUNDS COOLER. JUST SAY THAT) and is the first example of the midnight movie madness of this slice of fried insanity.
It’s like saying humans are half-Centaurs. Sure, it’s technically true, but it doesn’t mean anything aside from the fact that it sounds fucking awesome. Which… fine. I redact my complaint.
Standing in this time around for Beckinsale’s Selene, we have Sonja (Rhona Mitra), the daughter of Bill Nighy’s vampire elder Vincent. Like Selene, Sonja is a badass brunette warrior who sports a British accent and has a tendency towards dramatic clothing. To be fair, so does everyone in this franchise. Question: Did you know halter tops existed in the 1600s, or whenever the fuck this movie takes place? Because I didn’t, but they must have, because the Underworld franchise would never lie to me.
But Sonja isn’t worth talking about much. Though she’s ostensibly one of the leads, her character is such a carbon copy of Selene’s, only with Mitra’s wooden acting instead of Beckinsale’s charisma, that she barely registers. And that’s the thing: The movie knows that. It knows that Sonja is a placeholder nobody’s going to really care about. They know Sheen and Nighy gnawing on the scenery is the real draw here. So they take all Kate Beckinsale’s male gaze-y I-believe-in-miralces-where-you-from-you-sexy-thing moments AND GIVE THEM TO MICHAEL SHEEN.
FROST/NIXON’S MICHAEL SHEEN…
…INTERNATIONAL SEX SYMBOL ACTION STAR MICHAEL SHEEN.
God help me, it sort of works, too. (We know about Sheen’s nigh mystical power of dating women way hotter than him.) Because Sheen fucking commits. He spends this whole movie running around in leather pants and screaming. His pecs are out, no joke, 80% of the time. Even when he’s wearing a shirt, he’s rocking a deep V.
His performance at times borders on unhinged. (Not James McAvoy-in-Victor-Frankenstein unhinged, but up there.) And the role affords him a lot of opportunity for High Drama, as Lucian’s origin story posits him as a glorified slave who eventually rejects his semi-favored position in Vincent’s house to lead his brethren out of bondage.
GUYS. THIS IS ESSENTIALLY A TEN COMMANDMENTS REBOOT. MICHAEL SHEEN IS SHIRTLESS, SCREAMING, GOTH WEREWOLF MOSES. And don’t tell me he doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. I saw Breaking Dawn - Part 2. I saw the giggle that would live in infamy. Michael Sheen knows from vampires vs werewolves camp. He delivers the line “I will not bite… much” and gives it 110%. Half of his acting is crazy eyes. It is awards-caliber performance art.
I haven’t even talked to you about the sex scene yet. It’s all “artful” soft focus and fades to black and close-ups of bodyparts—and, again, I must remind you, this is Michael Sheen. This is the role that any twentysomething, generically attractive, frequently shirtless beefcake Abercrombie & Fitch model of an actor would typically have (like, for example, Theo James, who would make his Underworld debut in the next movie) EXCEPT IT’S 40-YEAR-OLD CHARACTER ACTOR MICHAEL SHEEN.
And then this happens:
Tattoo Michael Sheen’s o-face from Underworld: Rise of the Lycans on the inside of my eyelids. They’re fucking… while precariously laying on a bridge… in an underground cave? I mean, that’s some impressive fulcrum engineering work you have going there, but WAIT WHATEVER THE FUCK IS HAPPENING HERE? LET’S LOOK AGAIN.
The only person who can rival Michael Sheen in this movie is, obviously, Bill Nighy, whom I like to think of as playing Victor as Bill Mack’s great-great-great-grandfather. It makes no sense, but let me live my life. The role of Victor isn’t as whackshit insane as Lucian, but he still gets some moments in, because he’s Bill Nighy and he’s here to play:
I would be remiss not to also mention the writing, which is at once understated and poetic.
In conclusion, TK doesn’t know what he’s talking about and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is camp brilliance.
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