2009 | dir: Patrick Tatopoulos | 92 m
I always had the impression that Rise of the Lycans was a misfire in the Underworld series fueled by the loss of Kate Beckinsale. Maybe I was barely paying attention, but the advertising of the film definitely led me to believe that Kate was in the film, and when I discovered she was replaced by someone who looks pretty similar (Rhona Mitra), that I had lost most of my interest in going to see the prequel. The same thing happened in the previews of the film Doomsday, also starring Mitra and mistaken for Beckinsale, except that I couldn’t pass up Doomsday in theatres and was happy to revisit the film fairly recently to appreciate what a ride it was (and Mitra kicked a ton of ass in that film). This was my first viewing of Rise of the Lycans and I’m still not quite sure why this film exists. Didn’t we cover most of the ground here before in the previous two films?
We know all the major story beats as they were told in flashback before, but it’s all about the journey, right? Unfortunately, I just wasn’t into it: with the setting being moved to medieval Europe, I was really missing the darkness-drenched city and gothic style of the first films (moreso the first, of course). Things here just felt generic and uninspired. For a vampire castle, it certainly looks the same as any other castle we’ve seen in fantasy films, although I guess you could say they were “undercover” which also bothers me. It would make more sense that humans know there are vampires (and by extension werewolves) but that knowledge is lost to time, becoming the modern myth we enjoy today. We spend so much time inside the dreary sets and generic cave/forest that I can’t help but take some points away – it’s the third entry in a series that felt like it was expanding its scope, but now we’ve retracted a bit, and I’m reminded that the Beckinsale’s absence is a primary motivator for these events. Maybe the filmmakers were holding out hope that she would return in the future to continue Selene’s story (and it looks like they were right as she’s back for both the fourth and fifth entries). Rise of the Lycans becomes a sad distraction and excuse to make another entry in a profitable series but lack originality and drive to be something interesting.
Perhaps I’m being unfair to the film: there’s plenty of action to enjoy and well, that’s about it. I’m sorry. The film follows Viktor and Lucian as they explain the origin of lycans and why there was such a heated battle between them for centuries but oh wait, we already knew why right? (Spoiler not spoiler) Lucian’s lover, Sonja is killed by her father (Viktor) for becoming pregnant with Lucian’s offspring, which pushes him over the edge to take action against Viktor’s life – which we know is for naught considering we’ve seen both in the modern world. I think it’s silly as well that the vampires are trying to create and enslave lycans for the sole purpose of guarding them during daylight hours.
With quite a bit of negativity levelled against Rise of the Lycans, I do have to give the film some kudos for providing some gnarly werewolves. They are looking better with each film, and we get plenty of them as we follow their literal uprising against enslavement, which results in satisfying gory violence. I was happy to see both Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen return, as they throw themselves into these roles with a knowledge of self-awareness that reminds me to step back and enjoy the ride, which is easy enough to do within the ninety-two minute runtime. While I wish they had done something more original here, I did have a good time.