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Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Rhona Mitra, Michael Sheen

Lakeshore Entertainment Group LLC

Review in a Hurry: The vampires-versus-werewolves-under-blue-lights franchise gets medieval on our asses, literally, with a refreshingly efficient swords ‘n' armor prequel.

The Bigger Picture: Director Len Wiseman made a name for himself—and landed a hot actress wife in leading lady Kate Beckinsale—with the first two Underworld movies, which took a very simple concept and needlessly complicated it with large amounts of backstory. Vampires and werewolves, known respectively in these films as Death Dealers and Lycans, are engaged in an ancient feud, but rather than simply let them fight, Wiseman insisted on long patches of expository dialogue and plot complications nobody cared about. The movies were fun enough regardless, but instantly forgettable.

Here, we get to actually see the history rather than simply talking about it, as creature creator Patrick Tatopoulos takes over the directing reins. Being a monster man, he gets straight to the point, and it isn't long before blood flows. There's some story, but it's very basic—seems werewolves were just big dumb beasts back in the middle ages, until a vampire named Viktor (Bill Nighy) decided to crossbreed them with humans in the hopes of creating a race of slaves. Hard to see what could possibly go wrong with that plan.

The plus side of the prequel is that we do get Nighy back as the lead villain, and he seems happy to do it, even though he probably could have coasted on those Pirates of the Caribbean royalties for a while. Also returning is Michael Sheen as Lycan Lucian, fresh from playing David Frost to confronting a tyrannical warmonger even scarier than Richard Nixon. Though much of the movie is potentially quite silly when you think about it, both Brits play their parts absolutely straight, and it never feels like they're slumming. Tatopoulos has trimmed the fat for a more-satisfying bloodsucker brawl than we have any right to hope for in a January release.

The 180—a Second Opinion: For alleged immortals, both Death Dealers and Lycans are surprisingly vulnerable to plain old swords. And if sunlight burns vampires to death, why don't the Lycans simply attack their castle during the day? Also, how convenient is it that there's apparently a full moon every single night?