I wrote recently about how I was excited that Netflix was getting the original Underworld movie added to its library, which I consider to be underrated by critics, who have left the movie bleeding out with a terrible 31% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
And, after re-watching Underworld on Friday night just gone and enjoying it thoroughly, I thought I would check out what other movies in the series had been added to the Netflix library, as I’d not watched them all.
One of which was Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, which is also now newly available to stream on Netflix in the UK. I hadn’t seen this movie, having checked out of the series after the disappointing second film, Underworld: Evolution.
But, in simple terms I was sold by the fact Rise of the Lycans saw the return of Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy as Lucian and Viktor, two of the best characters from the first film, as well as the best actors in the series.
Surely Underworld: Rise of the Lycans couldn’t disappoint with these two top actors reprising their roles?
I was wrong, very wrong
Firstly, without spoiling the plot of the original Underworld movie, Rise of the Lycans acts essentially as the retelling (and padding out) of the prologue to it. It’s set centuries before the original Underworld and, literally, sets up that film.
It takes the fragments of backstory you get in the original Underworld, which has already told us how the Vampire vs Lycan fisticuffs began in the distant past, and then retells it in a barely feature length 90-minute runtime.
The thing is, though, this movie literally does just retell that story, so actually 90 minutes ends up somehow feeling too long. Seriously, I got to the end of the movie and felt they could’ve easily cut 20 minutes from the runtime.
That overarching criticism aside, we can now dig into the movie itself, which somehow does manage to waste Bill Nighy and Michael Sheen with a mediocre script and completely by the book action movie structure.
Sheen, who weirdly here slots into the action movie hero role, which seems completely at odds with his entire catalogue of performances to date, tries his hardest to imbue the film with some sort of soul, and Nighy is suitably menacing again as big baddie Viktor, but they can only polish a dull rock so much.
Meanwhile, lead protagonist of the original movie, Selene (as played by Kate Beckinsale) is nowhere to be seen as her character doesn’t exist yet, but is replaced, kind-of, by Rhona Mitra as the female lead. She’s fine and does what the role allows her to do, but is underserved by the script and plot. Plus, when you know how the plot is going to go beforehand, her arc and development as a character is dulled.
This movie is also, without doubt, one of the darkest movies I’ve ever seen visually. Almost the entire movie is set in perma-night and, on top of that, the makers of the film have a weird grainy yet blown out exposure filter over everything, which makes it looks grubby as well as dingy.
Yes, Underworld movies do lean towards the dark for obvious reasons, but the dinge here just feels oppressive to the entire watching experience. I felt weighed down by it, and not in a ‘I’m sharing the pain of the movie’s characters’ way, but in a ‘this is so bad and I want to stop watching this’ way. Medieval misery is the aesthetic, and it creeps out of the film into the real life watching experience.
Throw in other issues such as the fact there are few decent supporting performances (at least they brought back Kevin Grevioux as Raze), sets that are overused (this movie was made for just $35 million, and it shows), some really ropey CG and messy, badly choreographed action, and you’re left with a movie riddled with problems.
Kill it with fire
So, yeah, not the strongest piece of content to arrive on Netflix’s movie library by a long shot.
What really needs to happen here is that someone needs to make like a 45-minute ‘prologue’ cut of Rise of the Lycans, which could be then watched before the original Underworld. This would mean you could watch both in just over two and half hours.
Because, as issue-laden as this movie is, it does plug holes in the fragments of backstory we get in the original Underworld, so it would make sense to watch it as a proper prologue to the first Underworld. I mean, this movie actually ends using the opening footage from the original movie, so it really is seamless in that sense.
But, seriously, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drag myself through Rise of the Lycans in its theatrical cut ever again. This is one Underworld movie that really does need to stay dead.