Action Movie Friday: Underworld, Rise of the Lycans

It is time for Action Movie Friday, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: Underworld, Rise of the Lycans
MPAA Rating: R
Release: 2009
Genre: science, fantasy, horror, action
Starring: Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra, Steven Mackintosh, Kevin Grevioux
Director: Patrick Tatopoulos
Writer: Danny McBride, Dirk Blackman, Howard McCain, Len Wiseman, Robert Orr, Kevin Grevioux
Distributor: Sony/Screen Gems
Budget: $35 Million
Box Office: $91 Million

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 29%

Gingersnaps Rating: Half a Cookie. :(

For lack of any better idea on which order to review the Underworld franchise, I decided on chronologically by story, rather than by release date.

Summary:

Lycans were a plague upon the land, mindless with absolutely no control of their wolves. They waged war upon human and immortal alike. The Death Dealers of the vampires could not keep them in check, much less turn the tide. Only the lycans inside the walls of Victor’s castle were safe, for they were turned by Lucian, the first lycan able to control his beast. Victor’s favorite, Lucian protected his master within the bonds of slavery. But chains chafe and Lucian longs for a life beyond Victor’s walls with Victor’s daughter, Sonja, a death dealer and council member. For their love, they were willing to risk much, but when Lucian talks of freedom, Sonja must make a choice between her love of her family and her love of Lucian. Either will start a battle they may not be able to win, and after that battle will start the war.

Review:

This movie is incredibly disappointing to me. The Rise of the Lycans has the basic building blocks of what could be a great movie, slavery, forbidden love, prejudice, political struggle and betrayal. It could have gone very trite or gone extremely epic and yet somehow, it went flat. The movie, as written, probably could have been done in the first twenty minutes, leaving the next one hundred for something more interesting. Maybe the 7 writing credits have something to do with it, three for screen play with an additional person for story and still adding someone else for the characters. It is mind boggling and painful. Point of fact, we have more writers than we do main characters in this movie. That is sad.

Rise of the Lycans relied far too heavily upon the viewers having watched both Underworld and Underworld: Evolution to know what was going on. In any series, writers know that they’re going to have viewers or readers that may jump in at any point of the series and that all important information has to be presented in each book or episode or movie. They learn to figure out what is important and summarize it to put in key places in its most concise form. Television shows get away with this with their opening credits. Somehow, Rise of the Lycans forgot this entirely and starts off with information that you have had to watch the other movies to even get at what they meant. So, for a new viewer, they enter this movie completely confused and hope they have a handy buddy to go “Well, Corvinus had two sons, one was a vampire and one was a lycan, but the lycan was out of control, so they locked him away in a cage, and that is Victor’s daughter Sonja, who is wearing one of the keys around her neck…” Because that is the information everyone needed to know. Then the story could go on from there, which in this case was with Lucian being born.

Despite all the interest plot elements and building blocks they had, the story held no tension. The story as written never felt like our two main characters were in peril. There was no struggle between Sonja and her father. There was also no struggle between Sonja and the rather naïve Lucian. The script held a lot of stiff and boring speeches that told us what was going on instead of showing it to us. We also know how this is going to end and it isn’t going to end well. So, I just want them to get on with it already so we can get to some new material, except in this movie when we do get to the part that we know already from the previous movies, this movie simply ends. (Minor nitpick of this contradicting what we saw of Lucian’s memories in Underworld. Nitpick two was they didn’t include Lucian’s branding, even though Sonja said they’d do it if he ran away and was caught.)

There were hints in the movie that Victor was wrong to be prejudiced against the ‘mindless’ lycans. And it wasn’t even made too clear that he was completely wrong about the lycans he had created through Lucian. We were just supposed to assume so. Seriously, I think Victor has something against dogs in general. As it was, it was never explored. The fact that Lucian could control the ‘mindless’ lycans was never explored.

There were hints of good dialogue here and there, a touch of sass between Sonja and Lucian when they were pretending not to care about each other. Victor gives a few impressive put downs. Lucian’s speech was inspiring, but that could take up maybe five minutes of the movie.

The plot and dialogue of this movie needed judicious editing to make it feel exciting even if we already know what is going to happen. I am eating the cookie.

No grand and unnecessary explosions, no cookie.

Fights, ugh, this movie barely allotted time for fights. With a name like Rise of the Lycans, you truly expect to see some good sword to claw fighting action between vampires and werewolves. So much for that. The fights there were, weren’t interesting because you knew that key people couldn’t die. So, this movie’s fights were all between pretty much a bunch of mooks. The only Death Dealer we know by name is Sonja and Lucian’s underlings are never given any chance to shine so we don’t know or care about them enough if they do die. I’m eating a cookie.

Sonja had great potential to be a true player in this movie. She was a Death Dealer and a Council woman. She had both military and political might. Yet, we could have replaced her with random vampire female number five and the movie might not have been any different. Sonja was in the end only a love interest for Lucian to mourn and Victor to turn bitter over her ‘betrayal.’ It feels like to me that because she had a very specific type of role in the earlier story that they never bothered to figure out why Lucian would love her so much except for the fact she could swing a sword and was pretty! I’m eating another cookie.

I’m going to start with a personal pet peeve. To a point, I understand trying to keep the same thematic feel from the previous two movies. This movie was set in the supposed ‘dark ages.’ I don’t care if the women of the court are vampires. They wouldn’t dress that way! The costumes of the females were not only far too revealing, they were also far too modern. It was like they just decided to recycle clothes from Underworld instead of actually taking the time to make new costumes that fit the time period. Sonja was at least covered from neck to toe and tended to make sense, but she was about the only one.

The caverns were shown to be wet, but later we have barrels exploding into them. (And where did we get black powder from anyways?)

And lastly, the lance catapult things. They turned around to fire inside the castle? Did we expect an uprising? I mean, I’m trying to ignore that silver is a soft metal here and doesn’t hold an edge whatsoever. That and they didn’t bother changing the thrown disc weapons from the first movie. Plus, silver is a rarer metal. The fact they’re hurling long pieces of wood tipped with it out into the fields is horridly expensive. I mean, if I was the nobles, I’d be uprising too.

I kept being pulled out of this movie by things like this. A movie should be seamless. This movie failed on that regard. I’ll eat half the cookie, only because they kept the jumping around and the changes the same from the previous movies, so at least they stuck to their universe’s rules.

This movie was really, extremely boring without any sort of redeeming features to it. It barely fit into the Underworld universe and never made us care about the characters, the plot or why it was all happening (Victor’s prejudice.) This was a movie of wasted potential. If I’d seen this movie first, I would have never bothered with the rest of them. Half a gingersnap, because I’m generous.

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