Commissioned at the same time as the sequel “Underworld: Evolution” – before the original “Underworld” had even been released – “Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans” takes us back into the history of the Vampire/ Lycan conflict to explore a moment which had been fully and satisfyingly explained in two minutes of flashbacks in the first movie.
Hundreds of years before Selene took the war to a new level, Viktor (Bill Nighy) finds Lucian (Michael Sheen), the first werewolf born capable of taking human form and takes him in, raising him with the intention of creating a race of Lycan slaves who can guard the vampires during daylight hours. But when Sonja (Rhona Mitra), Viktor’s daughter, falls in love with Lucian, their love affair ignites a conflict which burns through the centuries.
Prequels are often problematic and “Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans” suffers terribly from the inevitability problem thanks to the first movie being very explicit about how their romance turned out. The casting of Rhona Mitra in the role of Sonja is something of a cynical marketing ploy as she looks and is styled so much like Kate Beckinsale that unwary audiences were probably fooled into thinking this was a continuation rather than a step backwards.
And a step backwards it is, not just narratively but also in worth. Sure it’s great to see a cadaverous Bill Nighy stomping around devouring the scenery with a side of ham but the script is so repetitive and dull and the cod-medieval setting so bland that it feels kind of boring. Michael Sheen – always so courteous and enthusiastic in interviews asking him why on Earth he agreed to do this follow-up – likewise does his best but it’s literally a thankless role as he goes through the seemingly endless cycle of battle, deliberation, battle, deliberation, treading water until the film reaches the required point to dovetail to “Underworld”.
It’s a nice touch that they bring back Kevin Grevioux as Lucian’s henchman Raze. If nothing else, “Rise Of The Lycans” manages to add a much needed depth and history to a relationship only hinted at in the first movie.
Director Patrick Tatopoulos adheres so closely to the limited and gloomy colour palate of the “Underworld” franchise that it drains the whole production of any kind of life or vitality. The rigidly nocturnal setting means the action is often poorly lit and hard to follow and when you’re faced with a choice between muddled action scenes and plodding council deliberations, the only thing that rises is the awareness that without Beckinsale’s Selene, the “Underworld” franchise hasn’t got a lot to offer.