Well, wasn’t that a week? It is not often we get to be front row for history. Rarer still is the opportunity to plan for one of those moments. To have the chance to watch the swearing in of the first African-American president of these United States is in and of itself possibly the event of a lifetime, but to have an event of that magnitude compounded by a cultural gift such as this week’s film is nothing short of historic. I suppose I’ll have to soldier on and somehow put into words the deeply resounding feelings that threaten to overwhelm my very soul.
For those of you without a television, “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” opened last weekend. I mention the “television” aspect of this release for the simple fact that the airwaves were inundated with images of armor-clad pale warriors clashing with hairy beastlies for the better part of the past three or four weeks. Needless to say, a legion of fanboys were ready to spend their hard earned dollars hoping to catch a glimpse of the latest death-dealer babe (Rhona Mitra) and CGI combat werewolf style. Were their adolescent (and early 30s still living in their parents’ basement) hopes rewarded?
For those unfamiliar with the saga (oh yes, this is part three of the tale), allow me to fill in some gaps. Lucian (Michael Sheen) and Viktor (Bill Nighy) are the alpha of their respective races. Viktor is lord of the vampires. He and his plasma-sipping aristocratic friends use the savagery of the werewolves to both protect them during the daylight hours and for slave labor in their mines. So the vampire business model would be to use men that have an uncontrollable beast inside them as slaves, continually abusing and demeaning them, and then have a shocked air of surprise about you when they consider filleting you as a way of saying “thanks.” Now that is the kind of sound management philosophy a troubled nation could take solace in. On the flipside, Lucian is the first Lycan born with the ability to go from human to wolf form. All before him were just pure animal. He is the vampiric breeding stock used to create the werewolf we know and love today.
As if this tale didn’t have enough potential for tragedy, enter the master of tragedy, William Shakespeare. Well, not quite Sir William himself, just one of his greatest works, “Romeo and Juliet.” In this latest “borrowing” of the lovers-on-opposite-sides-of-the fence theme, Viktor’s daughter, Sonja (Mitra), is deeply in love with Lucian.
Do I need to go any further with the synopsis? OK, good. What follows is unhappiness, blood, snarling, blood, screaming, jumping, more blood, massive hair growth and finally blood. All of these plot twists lead us out of the Dark Ages and into contemporary times where the saga of “Underworld” is first introduced to the viewing public. Or should I say, where a leather catsuit-clad Kate Beckinsale is first introduced to a legion of frothing Comic-Con fans.
It was obvious from the word go that this should have been a straight-to-video release. When your director’s big claim to fame is special effects wizard, you know what you’re getting into. Plus, the addition of name British actors (what are you two thinking?!) Sheen (“Frost / Nixon,” “The Queen”) and Nighy (“Valkyrie,” “The Constant Gardner”) were not nearly enough to make it bearable. Ironically, however, said effects really weren’t that grand, but at least that allowed consistency to remain as the film’s strong suit.
I can’t recommend this tired retelling of a tired franchise storyline to anyone. I can, however, hold on to hope. And my hope this week is a simple one. I hope I never have to read the phrase “Paul Blart, Mall Cop” anywhere, ever, again. Oh, hope.
Rating: W W