Darke Reviews – Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)

Continuing the countdown of the Underworld series we move now into the third entry of the franchise. Underworld, the story you didn’t really care about. I mean Underworld: The Two Towers. I mean Underworld Werewolves need love too. …gah sorry. Underworld Rise of the Lycans. In Hollywoods quest for mining blood from a stone they have resorted strongly to the prequel; with the Underworld franchise being no exception. This was the franchise film for my ex, she was the werewolf lover and me the vampire lover; which was no end of running jokes in our household.

Is Rise of the Lycans worth the 90 minutes of your time it takes to watch.

Much like last week, we have a total of nine credits under the writing category. Three belong to the original characters, so we get to ignore them. The story is by Len Wiseman , with the addition or Robert Orr and Danny McBride. McBride has a character credit, which leaves us Orr, who has done nothing else save the Jeffrey Dean Morgan thriller The Resident. Screenplay credits, in other words the script, goes to three: McBride (again), Dirk Blackman (how can that be a real name), and Howard McClain. Blackman was the scriptwriter on the the underrated sci fi take of Beowulf called Outlander, but vanished after this. McClain also worked on Outlander as both writer and director, who also vanished after.

Under their pen the story now focuses on the story of Lucian (Michael Sheen) and Sonja (Rhona Mitra) and their Romeo and Juliet like romance under the eye of her father Viktor (Bill Nighy). I am using the Romeo and Juliet romance accurately here. It adds to the story of Tannis (Steven Mackintosh) and introduces us to a still human Raze (Kevin Grevioux). We are now several hundred years in the past for this story, sometime after the trapping of William Corvinus, the first Werewolf, and before the birth of Selene. Time is subjective with this series at best.

We have the direction of former production designer and make up expert Patrick Tatopoulos. You may know him from the early seasons of Face/Off on SyFy, but he also was involved in Stargate, Spawn, Pitch Black, Cursed, The Cave, Silent Hill, Trick R Treat…..the list goes on. This was one of his first, and sadly only, forays into directing. He showed a strong hand at the helm and keeps the overall style of the original films. It has a tight focus overall, but act three quickly reminds me of The Two Towers with Michael Sheen going full Aragorn in his trench coat, the rain, and lots of swords. In typical series fashion it is on the lower end of the budget but they stretch it for all that they can.

The casting keeps all that they could reasonably. Sheen has to carry the movie as an ‘younger’ version of the leader he is to become. Thankfully he has all the charisma to do so; even if some scenes push credulity. Nighy continues to chew scenery like you wouldn’t believe, I am starting to think the heavy blinking is irritation with the contacts, but the man is able to carry himself as a heavy despite his comic background. He is also given the oppotunity to show a few different emotions this time, which he takes with quiet resolve. Playing the role of Sonja is Rhona Mitra (Doomsday, The Last Ship) , and unlike the actress from the first film, Mitra actually fits the description when the line is uttered “you reminded him of his precious Sonja”. As a bit of trivia, and a point of desire to be honest, she refused to remove her fangs during filming instead saying they felt as if they always should have been there. She clearly plays the role of someone who not only physically would remind Viktor, but also personality and general badassness. She does well with the raw physicality of the role and sensuality as well.

The technicals hold true to Underworld stylings with blue lighting filters, deep shadows, and an overall near black and white look to the film. The abundance of black leather remains surprising, but c’est la vie. When there is CG work it isn’t that great, but it never has been. The best shots are of the physical werewolves. These are some of the best were’s on screen looking large, in charge, and not entirely ridiculous. The challenge with any werewolf is to allow the actor to emote as both the skull and mouth are structured entirely differently, though they do what they can due to the large amount of time needing to focus on the werewolves.

TL;DR?

Lycans is not the weakest of the franchise. They were also painted into a corner with the story somewhat where some elements *must* happen. It also isn’t the best. From a financial standpoint it made its money back, almost in the first weekend and more than doubled it when you look globally.  That said, this also has the weakest financial turn for any of the franchise, with Awakening having the highest.

It isn’t my favorite of the series, but I do enjoy it. So where does that leave us?

If you feel the need to marathon the film series then you can absolutely enjoy this. I don’t think I’d recommend it as a standalone viewing unless you enjoy Underworld as a series. It does standalone with no real need to watch the others, but there’s not enough draw on it’s own either.

To sum up: “That was fun I guess.”

 

 

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Darke Reviews – I Frankenstein (2014)

This one is coming a lot later than it’s release date, but judging from the Box Office none of you have seen it. I suppose that counts for something? Every bit of word of mouth review I have heard for this film said it was god awful. I even heard it hit 0% on Rotten Tomatoes for a bit; though I can’t verify that as I don’t check other reviews before writing my own. I will stand by that til the day I die (not that death is really something I consider a limitation). Honestly due to the word of mouth alone going into this I expected the worst. The trailers didn’t do it much justice, despite the fact this is from the producers of Underworld; a film series which I rather enjoy for all it does bring.

Lets talk about the writer, Kevin Grevioux (Underworld) and the concepts he wanted to bring to screen. I discussed earlier the fact that Robocop also wanted to address the element of What does it mean to be a man? Where Robocop plodded along and refused to get to the point on that concept like some petulant child, I Frankenstein goes the other way. The movie has more exposition than anything I’ve seen recently, what keeps it from being painful is the fact that between the exposition is light tension and some relatively beautiful fight sequences. The entire concept of the film seems to revolve around the concept of the soul and does a man like Frankensteins Monster have one? What is it that makes him what he is? Is he a man, he is certainly not human, nor infernal, nor divine. Each scene of exposition seems to tie back to this basic concept; as do most of the relevant plot points. In this the movie succeeds heads above Robocop. Its also somewhat clumsy at times with it and a nasty habit of too much dialogue when they bother with it and dialogue said without a soul behind it.

Sadly that falls on the director and additional screenplay credit Stuart Beattie. It saddens me how hollow this one is when you compare it to other works he has done, such as “Pirates of the Carribean: Curse of the Black Pearl” and a movie few of you have seen but all of you should, “Tomorrow, when the War Began”. TWWB is Red Dawn told better. It is shot beautifully, the characters are endearing and cover the gamut of what youd expect, but it does so much right and has actual heart to it. That is what saddens me about I,F. It has no heart, no soul of its own, which is ironic in a movie about a mans quest for a soul. It comes across too paint by numbers and a slight variation on Underworld; enough so that they could be in the same universe.

How you ask?

This is the story of a centuries old secret war between two diametrically opposed forces. Both sides become curious about a single individual with the intention on capturing and controlling him to give their side the advantage in the war. Be that advantage as a basis for a psuedo science experiment to create an ubermensch or just a weapon that can defeat the enemy. The “choosen one” wants to decide his own destiny and after resisting finally joins the war but on his own terms and his own side.

Which film did I describe? You can’t tell and thats a problem. A saving grace of the I,F story is the fact that they don’t deal with the Jesus metaphor in the central character that was ripe for the picking.

The acting is all over the place in the movie, which doesn’t help enhance the story. You have cases for overacting, underacting and people who are just phoning it in. Aaron Eckhardt as the Monster, decides to go for the underacting and apparently wants to show he could have played Batman as well. He is quiet, brooding and barely says a word focusing instead on long glares through his eyebrows. Jai Courtney (the abomination called the 5th Die Hard film) also went to the underacting school; though in his case I don’t know if its underacting or that he may infact be an animate mannequin. Bill Nighy showed up for the paycheck and decided to do what he does best and be the most awesome thing on screen. I really want to see a film with him and Gary Oldman, that would be fun to watch. Miranda Otto (Eowyn from Lord of the Rings) has not aged well the past few years, but tries her best and at least does well when she’s working with Eckhardt and showing the others how it’s done. Then there is Yvonne Starhovski (Chuck for some of you, Miranda from Mass Effect 2/3 for others) as Terra. I swear this girl cannot help taking roles where she’s reanimating the dead. She, like Otto, tries her best to play the role and pulls off a believable scientist. The movie thankfully only teases a bit of romantic or sexual tension between Terra and the Monster, and for that we owe them a debt of gratitude. It would have worked, but also would have been entirely unnessecary.

As far as the effects go, the transformation from Gargoyle/Angel to Human is one of the more beautiful effects I have seen and works in every situation. Conversely, the human to demon transition does not work nearly as well. The look of the Gargoyles themselves are mediocre at best. The Weapons and other technical effects are loaded with the traditional Underworld pretty but not practical factor. I also am left with questions on the housing market in Eastern Europe after watching it as nearly every building looks as if it should be condemned.

TL;DR time? I suppose.

I, Frankenstein is actually watchable if you enjoyed the Underworld series. Its light, its fluffy and makes for great background noise if you watch it on DVD or Netflix – which is its most likely venue for most people.

I cant say you need to see this film in good concience. but its certainly not the worst thing this year. It currently is floating on the top of the flotsam and jetsam of rubbish we have been delivered by Hollywood thus far. Wait for Redbox or Netflix folks.

I am hoping, though it is likely in vain, that 300 Rise of an Empire (I’d have preferred Battle of Artemisia its original title) coming in March will be the first film I can recommend with my soul ( stop laughing) intact.