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Underworld - Rise of the Lycans (DVD)

Starring: A grumpy Bill Nighy, a former Lara Croft and Michael Sheen's wild, staring eyes.

Rated: 18.

Story: The first two Underworld films are set in the present day and focus on a war between vampires and werewolves. This is a prequel, detailing the beginnings of the conflict in the Dark Ages. The majority of the werewolves are bestial and brutal but the vampires have enslaved those able to switch to human form. These Lycans guard the vampires during the day.

Problems arise when the chief-vampire's daughter falls for one of the Lycans. This leads to a Romeo and Juliet situation, a touch of rebellion and lots of supernatural creatures dismembering each other by moonlight.

Comments: The ending of the second Underworld film was pretty conclusive, so this third effort is rather superfluous to the story. It fills in some history but it doesn't add much of significance. Viewed in its own right, however, it's a well-paced and satisfying fantasy adventure. There's nothing truly spectacular about it but neither does it wander off into endless, self-indulgent excess. The combatants never end up doing backflips in a burning building on top of a moving dragon merely for the sake of it. The simple mix of love story and revolution is actually refreshingly restrained in the context and, although the combat is fast and bloody, it rarely feels excessive.

Rise of the Lycans isn't exactly Shakespeare but it's nice to watch an action movie which doesn't descend into total stupidity by Act III. The plot is also more intelligible than the first films, so this is definitely worth a look if you fancy some fantasy brawling to entertain you while you collapse exhausted on the sofa with a beer. I'm now in the mood to watch the other two again.

One thing to note is that the casting is very peculiar, feeling more suitable to a Richard Curtis comedy than a swords-and-incisors action flick. I kept expecting Hugh Grant to pop up at any moment... then rip someone's head off. This was disturbing. Nevertheless, the choice of actors works out in the end. Rhona Mitra's performance is surprisingly adequate and Bill Nighy finally seems to have got the hang of playing a ruthless, immortal overlord. Michael Sheen's teeth, meanwhile, are somewhat too perfect for a werewolf slave in an age before dentists but his impressive, physical performance is astonishing considering he's best known for portrayals of Tony Blair, David Frost and Brian Clough. His versatility is more frightening than the CGI monsters.

Conclusion: Oddly, if you haven't watched any of the Underworld movies yet, this is maybe the place to start.

Explosions: A few remarkably flammable barrels of oil.
Computer-generated werewolves: Hundreds.
Bits you won't follow if you haven't seen/can't remember the other movies: Occasional lines here and there.
Great dental work: Twinkly.
Will I ever be able to see Tony Blair the same way again?: Probably not...

Rating: 4/5.


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