I’m going to confess right off the bat that I both hate and love the Underworld movies. I hate them in that they are horribly derivative, mindlessly shallow eye candy, and are the closest thing to empty calories as movies can come. I love them for all the same reasons, because as much as my sense tells me they are pretty garbage, my inner vampire nerd is completely turned on by the images onscreen. I will freely admit that I own and have watched many times a copy of the original Underworld and I even went to see Underworld: Awakening and paid full price. I am hopelessly addicted. When a new one comes out, I’ll probably see that one, too.
So how, you may ask, did it come to pass that I’ve gone all these years without watching Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. That’s a good question. After all, it’s more Underworld-y goodness, features Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy in their original roles as Lucian the Lycan and Viktor the vampire and has my favorite guilty-pleasure actress, Rhona Mitra, in a starring role. How could I possibly miss such a thing? Well….
I’m not a huge fan of prequels and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is a prequel. My main objection to such things is that they are closed courses with only one exit, and depending upon how clearly the original film(s) defined their fictional past, a prequel can be extremely predictable. I suspected this would be the case with this one and I’m sad to say that I was right.
For those of you who haven’t familiarized yourself with the Underworld series, I’ll try to break it down for you. There are vampires (no explanation necessary) and there are Lycans, which are essentially just super-powered werewolves. For a long period of time the vampires enslaved the Lycans, but centuries ago there was a revolt led by Lucian against the vampiric overlords. Thus triggered centuries of bloody warfare, but that’s something for the original Underworld to address, not Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.
Considering that I haven’t liked any of the Underworld movies going all the way back to the 2003 original, it’s kind of bizarre that I’ve watched them all, sometimes more than once. Heck, I even own a copy of Underworld (special collector’s edition!) and have spun the disc in my DVD player many times, including once when I listened to the commentary track in order to glean as many tidbits of trivia as I could. Mine is a sad case.
I took me forever to see Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, despite the presence of Rhona Mitra, for whom I have a strange affection. I had been burned more than was typical by Underworld: Evolution and wasn’t sure I wanted to dive into that blue-tinted world a third time. But once they announced a fourth film, I was all aboard. What’s up with that?
It’s tough to say what I expected of Underworld: Awakening besides more of the same. There’s always been something vaguely unsettling about the amount of attention paid to the films’ own mythology and the second film practically drowned in it. The third film was likewise an exercise in telling us a bunch of stuff we pretty much already knew, so what could a fourth installment offer but still more convoluted back-story and a mindless, blue-tinted violence.
Lest there by any suspicious that I’m about to call Underworld: Awakening a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, let me clear that up right away: what you have here is a movie that is better than the second, somewhat less irritating than the first and on par with the third. If I had to put a letter grade on the movie, I’d give it a solid C. It is not a case of overreaching in the manner of Underworld: Evolution and it is not beleaguered by unflattering comparisons to the roleplaying setting, The World of Darkness. Underworld: Awakening is instead a unabashed action vehicle that happens to have vampires and werewolves in it and is, of course, appropriately tinted blue most of the time.