I’ve been re-watching the Underworld movies this week to get ready for Awakening (planning to see it on Thursday). Since I’m watching them in chronological order, I started with Rise of the Lycans; curious to see how it holds up on its own.
Though the blue color palette loses its effectiveness after a while, that’s a feature of the entire series and otherwise the visuals in Rise are fantastic. The medieval setting is cool and the vampires have designed their castles and armor with style. It’s also cool to see everyone fighting with bladed weapons. Watching that here makes it even cooler in Underworld when Viktor shuns modern, silver nitrate-filled bullets in favor of his sword. That comes across as an affectation unless you’ve seen Rise and can better understand his nostalgia for the glorious time when vampires didn’t have to hide from humans.
The plot of Rise is pretty unnecessary. It basically expands a brief flashback sequence from Underworld, but what it adds are world-building details, some emotional weight, and action set-pieces, not story. There’s nothing new to be learned that wasn’t already revealed in the first movie. That’s not really the point though. Rise is enjoyable for its mood and setting and its likable lead who, unfortunately, is not Rhona Mitra’s Sonja.
After getting good and used to Kate Beckinsale’s Selene as the main character of the Underworld series, it was difficult to see her lookalike sidelined so much in Rise. The trailers played up the similarities between the two actresses and characters – and Sonja is badass in this movie (I’m always a fan of Rhona Mitra) – but her role is essentially to end up in Lucian’s (Michael Sheen) refrigerator, giving him motivation to start the Lycan uprising and push events towards Underworld. It was always going to have to be that way (again, Rise‘s story is outlined in Underworld), but it’s disheartening to see Sonja so ineffectual in changing her world.
I enjoyed watching Lucian make the change from Viktor’s lap dog to warrior and leader though. It’s a fine way to spend an hour-and-a-half. I’m just sorry that Rise doesn’t have a female character as strong as Selene. It’s another reason to miss Kate Beckinsale.