The characters in “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” have such a marvelous time fighting each other that they don’t care what the audience thinks about them. On that we’re even, since we don’t care about anybody in this film. Monster movies with vampires and werewolves are always likely to be interesting, but the ones in this film are so over-the-top that nobody can relate to them. On top of everything, they go to two different extremes: The vampires are upright citizens, but the werewolves are idiot beasts. So while they’re having a tug of war, you’re the one who loses.
This is another one of those unnecessary prequels that reveals half-baked events from the past. It involves a bunch of vampires who call themselves Death Dealers, led by an elder named Viktor (Bill Nighy). They live like kings with werewolves for slaves, some of which are more productive than others: Most of the work is carried out by Lycans who, as Yogi is to bears, are smarter than the average wolf. Yogi Bear doesn’t have the power to turn into a human at will, but the advantage here is that he was intelligent enough not to appear in this movie.
Viktor keeps a Lycan named Lucian (Michael Sheen) close to him most of the time as his servant, and praises him for his killer instinct and loyalty. Lucian doesn’t mind protecting the Death Dealers whenever wild werewolves attack, especially since it isn’t wise to get on Viktor’s bad side. (He’s particularly unkind to traitors, who often get terminated.) That creates a problem for Lucian, who’s in love with Viktor’s daughter, Sonja (Rhona Mitra). They each face death for making love behind Viktor’s back, but you’d think that a guy who drinks blood from a goblet might be more open-minded.
The two “Underworld” movies that came before this each made a splash at the box office, big enough to release another entry and milk the series for what it’s worth. Leaving aside the vampires and werewolves, this kind of material seems ideal for people who love action movies – as long as they can stand all that dumb, pseudo-intellectual dialogue. The characters speak as if they’re trying to rise above the roughness of the genre, but that just makes them look foolish and offbeat. It’s as if everybody from “The Taming of the Shrew” was stuck in “Planet of the Apes.”
The amazing thing about these vampires isn’t their uncanny powers, but their incapable brains. When Viktor suspects that he’s being lied to by one of the other Death Dealers, he sinks his teeth into her neck and drinks some of her blood, which leads to a bunch of psychic images that reveal the truth. (This does not include revelations that turn up afterward, so why bother?) Although this is a wonderful talent, it’s not employed often enough. If Viktor also has second thoughts about some of the other characters, why not end the speculation and drink their blood too? Maybe he feared information that might’ve opened the door to another prequel.