Watch Underworld: Rise of the Lycans' vampire/werewolf war—if you can!

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Watching the new Underworld film, it's impossible to see what's good about this series, because it's literally impossible to see the series itself. In Rise of the Lycans, production-designer-turned-director Patrick Tatopoulos' definition of style amounts to covering everything in mud and then shooting the characters in dark clothes exclusively at night.

Unfortunately, a proper amount of daylight would do to the film the same thing it would do to a vampire—namely, destroy the delicate fabric that holds its parts together—which is why Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is passable entertainment for longtime fans but insufferable for anyone not already familiar with its melancholy mash-up of vampire and werewolf mythologies.

Because Rise of the Lycans is a prequel, this one explores the backstory that sets up the first two films, although unfortunately no one ever reveals why vampires' eyes are sometimes crystal blue and sometimes normal. A lot of the plot has to do with a forbidden love between Sonja (Rhona Mitra), a vampire, and Lucian (Michael Sheen), a werewolf. Sonja's father, Viktor (Bill Nighy), does most of the forbidding, which leads to a revolt by the enslaved werewolves and, eventually, a lot of heavy-handed metaphors about class and race.

As a suitably hot substitute for Kate Beckinsale (a woman whose reputation will thankfully never recover from the skintight outfits she wore in the first two films), Rhona Mitra effectively conveys voluptuous longing, throwing herself equally into the arch melodrama of the film's familial power struggle and a sex scene that's cribbed from 300.

Sadly, however, when the film occasionally embraces a color palette, it opts for red rather than pink, which is why we see a lot more bodies being eviscerated than exposed. When she isn't on screen, meanwhile, the film is primarily an exercise in seeing how many scenes poor Bill Nighy can appear in during which he never, ever blinks.

Of course, those familiar with or even invested in the characters and their historic plight may finally find some answers in this future-primitive adventure. But the question remains why someone would create a universe where some people can drink blood and others can transform into massive, teeth-gnashing beasts, but both prefer to shoot at or cross swords with one another.

Full of superficial drama but empty of emotional substance, Rise of the Lycans explains how everything happened in the first two films but fails to address why, which is why, after this third installment, both longtime fans and newcomers will still feel they've been left in the dark.