There’s a stolid integrity to the Underworldmovies, the goth-action series about a blood war between werewolves and vampires. Inspired as much by video games as by vampire-werewolf lore, the movies, starting in 2003, are in many ways the opposite of their contemporaries—solemn, serious-minded and insistently plot driven, to the point that it’s often difficult to sort through the rambling excess.
Release Date: Jan. 23
Director: Patrick Tatopoulos
Writer: Danny McBride, Dirk Blackman, Howard McCain
Cinematographer: Ross Emery
Starring: Michael Sheen, Bill Nighy, Rhona Mitra
Studio/Run Time: Screen Gems, 92 mins.
The first two movies aren't successful, necessarily, but they're honorable as the genre goes. The apparently downgraded prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans does us one better: A fidelity to the style of the originals without the tangled, overstuffed narrative. An origin story that swings back centuries, it adopts an elemental setup—werewolves,
called lycans, rise up against their slave masters, the vampires—and forms into a pleasingly wonky brand of tragedy. To that end the movie evokes franchise regular Lucian (a sublime Michael
Sheen) as he leads the werewolves to
revolution after his captors uncover his affair with a vampire princess (Rhona
Mitra, born to star in movies like this).
Directed by Patrick Tatopoulos, who moves up from the special-effects
team, Lycans also strikes a rare balance
between real creatures and CG effects. Even when it flies off base—there are times when Lucian comes
dangerously close to a Christ figure—the film offers a kick of zany comedy. And in what turns out to be the real feat, Tatopoulos brings his camp spectacle close to real, stirring melodrama, and that's hard to beat.