I know what you’re thinking. Why would I inflict this movie on myself? Well, I find no shame in admitting that I liked Underworld, mostly liked Underworld 2: Electric Boogaloo: Evolution, and generally don’t mind crazy action/horror movies that primarily involve Kate Beckinsale kicking ass and taking names. I had seen several previews for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, and was going in with pretty low expectations for a prequel. I am going to try to keep this review spoiler-free.
If you’re interested in a plot synopsis, check out the Wikipedia article. Well, you may be surprised, but I liked this movie. Yes, it was terribly cheesy, but in an entertaining way. There was a metric boatload of computer graphics, to enhance the fight scenes; I’d say the most unrealistic aspect were the excessive sprays of blood. Bill Nighy seems to have been born to play an over-the-top vampire villain. I’m guessing Michael Sheen would prefer to be remembered this year for his work on Frost/Nixon, but he did a good job given what he had to work with. Based on the previews, I thought this movie had a distinct lack of Kate Beckinsale. I was surprised when she (yes, I know, getting to that…) showed up early on in the movie, and then proceeded to hang around the entire movie. I didn’t realize that the part of Sonja was not some past version of Selene until the very end of the movie, that’s how much Rhona Mitra and Kate Beckinsale look alike (especially when made up and costumed similarly). I would not be surprised at all if most viewers were also confused (it had been a few years since I had seen the first movie, in which they reference the fact that Selene is Viktor’s “replacement” daughter).
As far as the writing goes, my biggest complaint was pretty much with the cheesiness of some lines, and not so much with the overall plot and where it fit into the Underworld series.. Another review I saw online called it “were-Spartacus”, and that was pretty much my problem – these post-Enlightenment ideals about freedom and self-determination (for the werewolves Lycans, out from under their vampire masters) just didn’t fit in the dark fantasy setting. There were some nice rousing speeches, and they certainly tried to make Viktor’s dictator-character as ruthless and decadent as possible… but it just didn’t quite fit, somehow.
I thought the costuming was pretty cool, from the worker leather armor of the Lycans to the almost elf-like Death Dealer armor. I’d say that Weta Workshop’s work on the Lord of the Rings movies really raised the bar on what people expect from fantasy movies in terms of prop detail, even for a prequel with relatively low expectations like U:RotL.
I should also add that I have no interest in getting into the whole debacle about whether or not this series rips off of White Wolf’s intellectual property; you can read a bit about that on Wikipedia, but since there was no final decision in any lawsuit, I see it as a moot argument. It falls into other silly geek debates like how Warcraft rips off Warhammer, D&D rips off Tolkien, Star Wars rips off Kurosawa, etc., etc. Feel free to argue the point, I just won’t reply :oP.