A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 274 – Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – November 29th, 2010

Last night I mentioned hoping that this movie wouldn’t be bogged down by the issues the others had, flipping back and forth between backstory and present day. Truth be told, I was rather looking forward to this. I love backstory. But I was also wary of it, because well, a lot of the backstory was already told in the other movies and that makes for some trouble with maintaining tension and continuity. So, mixed feelings firmly in mind, on we went with the last of the Underworld movies. So far. Given the description of the possible fourth movie on Wikipedia, I’m nervous about going back to sequels after this.

I really rather wish I’d watched this first. I mean, my major issues with the other two had to do with integrating the backstory and worldbuilding into the main plots. I love backstory, but it ended up feeling like as interesting as it was, and as much as it added to the atmosphere, it ended up competing with the rest of what was going on. If this had come before, or maybe in between, I think then some of the more exhaustive backstory stuff could have been dealt with cleaner.

In terms of mood, this movie does set a nice stage. A nice blue stage. Seriously, this whole movie is in black and shades of grey and blue. Now, I happen to like blue, and it does make the red blood stand out well, but while I know the other movies were similar in color scheme, I really noticed it this time. Really, it’s clearly an intentional choice. On top of the whole blood thing the blue tone to all the visuals definitely makes it clear that the bulk of the movie takes place at night as well as making the vampires look all pale and inhuman. Of course, it also makes the werewolves look inhuman. And the humans look inhuman. So maybe something should have been done about that. But overall I like it.

With the mood and atmosphere set by the blue and black visuals of a looming castle and lots of sweaty werewolves and pristine vampires, we can move right into the story. And I do have to say that I liked the story. I knew damn well what was going to go down by the end, having seen it in a flashback in the first movie, but I did enjoy seeing the specifics of how it all played out and got to that point. According to the trivia on IMDB the first movie was originally pitched as a “Romeo and Juliet” type story, but to be honest I think this one is far closer. It’s even got the inevitable doom of the couple built in. We know that Lucien and Sonja, both second generation and born into their respective species (as opposed to created like most of the others), aren’t going to get a happy ending. So really the point of watching this is to watch for how Lucien got to the point he was at in the first movie. What, precisely, were the events that led him to make a deal with Kraven? How did he know Tanis and get him on his side too? And where did Raze come from?

And oh, oh all those bits are shown. This is truly Lucien’s story here. Lucien’s and Viktor’s. Sonja’s as well, obviously, but if you’ve seen the other movies you know she’s destined to go up in smoke by the end. So as backstory goes, it’s all for Lucien and Viktor and their eventual rivalry in the first movie. I very much liked how this movie took Lucien’s obsession with combining the vampire and werewolf bloodlines and gave it a nice solid background. It was something Sonja wanted, something she thought would bring about a new day for both species, and so Michael in the first movie is very much the child Lucien and Sonja never got to have. It’s not presented in a sledgehammery way, but firmly enough that I can see the thread of it and I like that. And I also like that Viktor is so very ruthless, but also crushed in his own broken and sick way when Sonja dies. Yes, he’s still a vicious dude who put his own daughter to death, but he cared in his own way. It could easily have played awkwardly, but Bill Nighy did a great job with Viktor. He chews the scenery, but also knows how to give his character an actual arc underneath all the chewing.

I think what pleased me most here was getting to really see the development of Lucien as a character, because he’s a villain for a good chunk of the first movie and here he’s the hero. It’s a solid plot about the cruelty of the vampires and how they created the lycans and abused them until the lycans rose up against them. Ignoring what happened later on after this movie ends, there’s a sort of triumph there. It balances the other movies nicely, really. But in addition to all that? There’s backstory for two of my favorite secondary characters in the other movies.

Now, Raze is one of the coolest lycans ever. Just listen to his voice! Not to mention that he’s played by one of the guys who created the characters for the original story. Kevin Grevioux has a fantastic presence, and in the first movie I loved him and wanted way more of him than I got. It’s great to see him here and see how he meets Lucian and ends up following him. He doesn’t want to be a lycan, sees it as a curse, and is more than happy to go up against the vampires who’ve destroyed so much. So yes, more Raze equals awesome. And then this movie gives me my other favorite minor character: Tanis. He’s clearly morally bankrupt in the second movie, but also has a sort of dedication to history that I love. He’s a self-serving archivist. I love him. He’s got a much expanded role in the backstory here, scheming for a spot on the vampire council, protecting his own interests over all else except the records he keeps. He seems to always be playing whatever side will help him come out best, but then there’s a great scene where all the vampires are gearing up for war and what is he doing? Packing up scrolls and books. And eventually, in between this movie and the first? He pissed off Viktor by telling the truth about him. Fascinating character. I love morally grey characters and well, librarian. Played by an actor I like. Right.

I think my only real complaint about this movie is a somewhat odd one for me. There’s plenty of action here, and lots of scheming and plotting and revolution and rebellion and the vampires are vicious and the werewolves/lycans are brutal and I love all that. But if the backstory is supposed to be about this doomed couple of Lucian and Sonja? There’s just not enough of them. They do have a number of scenes together, but it all picks up with them already in love. It felt a bit abrupt for me. But then it played out fine. It rang true enough when the end came. Enough so that I don’t mind a bit of revision to the original flashbacks. After all, this is an expanded version of all that, so they could go bigger and more expansive. Toss in some sword fighting and a bigger castle, better wolf transformations. And I’m all for all of those.

November 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

November 29, 2010

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

I have not seen this movie prior to today. I have to admit, not having seen it yet, that I have grave misgivings. Can you take the (admittedly very cool) medieval prologue from yesterday’s movie and expand it into an entire film of its own? I’m not sure what to make of an Underworld movie set entirely in the dark ages. Can it be as cool if it involves all armor and no rubber bodysuits? All crossbows and no swords? Can it be an Underworld movie without Kate Beckinsale?

The other issue is that this movie doesn’t really have anything new to add to the Underworld mythos. If you’ve seen the first movie then you know from the beginning how this one has to end. I suppose it works on a sort of Greek tragedy level – knowing the inevitable outcome of the story helps to build the tension. But it’s a little depressing knowing in advance how the story of Sonja and Lucian must play out.

On the other hand it is fun to see some of the other stories woven into this one. There’s the origin of Raze, for example, which is awesome (because Kevin Grevioux is awesome!) There’s the plotting and scheming of Tannis the chronicle keeper. And of course there’s an awful lot of Bill Nighy as Viktor, which is something I enjoy watching any time.

The fact of the matter is that this is actually a pretty fun hack-and-slash medieval action movie. The vampires are not particularly vampyric, in that they don’t really do anything but lurk around their fortress whipping their slaves and whining about how nobody respects them. They’re like super-strong knights in armor who burst into flame in direct sunlight, but not particularly cool beyond that. But then again, the title of the movie IS Rise of the Lycans, so you know that the werewolves are the real stars. It’s pretty much Braveheart but with an all werewolf cast. And on that level it works marvelously.

There’s rain-drenched sword battles, lots of triple-shot crossbows, giant ballistas, and hordes of immortal wolf-men. There’s the now-familiar wolf transformations from the first two Underworld movies with their sort of almost-stop-motion feel which is so cool. Probably the most impressive accomplishment technically for this movie is that it depicts the warped half-man wolf creatures running a lot and the gait that the animators have created here is probably the coolest run you could have for a human-shaped creature. Too often I have seen stuntmen on all fours attempting to run and it always either looks like a sped-up crawl or a stuntman waving his limbs while dangling from a wire (which is what it usually is.) Here the wolf-men have a very convincing lope that manages to be menacing rather than laughable. Good job Underworld animation team!

It’s also fantastic that for what is essentially a fleshed out flashback and spin-off film the producers managed to get so much of the original cast back. Michael Sheen as Lucian (particularly funny to watch now that Amanda and I have realized that he is David Frost from Frost/Nixon.) Bill Nighy of course, who must really enjoy getting so many paychecks out of this franchise after his character was so definitively killed off in the first movie. (I got the impression many times in this film that his cosmetic contacts were really irritating him, and that he was using that pain to inform his portrayal.) Kevin Grevioux is, of course, completely awesome – and still doesn’t get enough lines. I wish they’d make a Raze movie next – I’d love to watch that. With the sub-woofer turned way up. Oh, yeah. And I know Amanda was delighted to see Steven Mackintosh back as Tannis from the second movie. She loves a good librarian character and cheered during the climactic battle when he was trying to save his archives.

I had fun tonight. This is definitely the lesser of the three Underworld movies in my opinion, but it’s still amusing and it still does just what it sets out to do. It makes me want to play some more Castlevania: Lord of Shadows.

November 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment