The main problem, among a handful, with the three-quel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is that if you're a big fan of the series, then you already know EVERYTHING about the flick! If you were paying close attention to the Act III back-story that's doled out in the original Underworld, then you've already heard the story about the First Werewolf (Lucian) and how he fell in love with the daughter (Sonja) of the Vampire Lord (Viktor) and how that forbidden combination ultimately led to a centuries-old mega-battle between the forces of bloodsucker and man-wolves. So as far as surprises go, Underworld 3 (being not only a prequel, but also a feature-length version of a 5-minute flashback sequence) doesn't have all that many surprises. Except one, perhaps: It's actually kind of fun.
As an unapologetic supporter of the first Underworld, and as a semi-fan of the undercooked Underworld: Evolution, I walked into the prequel more than prepared to judge the flick as just a basic weekend afternoon matinee. And by that standard, which I'll admit is a pretty charitable one, this third iteration of the Vamps vs. Wolves saga is actually pretty fun. The key this time around is that we have a very basic story (which, again, we've been lectured on once before) and since the flick takes place IN the backstory, we're spared a lot of the "legacy this" and "prophecy that" stuff that slows down both of the previous Underworld adventures.
And since we're dealing with much of the same cast and crew from the earlier films, Rise of the Lycans is all but awash in those things that the loyal fans are craving: Pulpy, florid, colorful dialog; lots of very attractive non-humans who strut around with muscles bared and hips all slinky, a handful of actors well aware of the type of movie they're making, special effects that range from quaintly corny to surprisingly nifty; and lots of butt-kickin' (if over-edited) action sequences in which vampires in leather battle with musclebound wolf-men. The plot -- that vampires created "Lycans" as slave labor but eventually live to regret it...and how -- is just enough to keep your eyes open during the talky bits, but if the first two flicks were a bit over-plotted (and I'd contend they were) then this one succeeds on simple efficiency.
Taking over the lead role from Kate Beckinsale (although they play totally different characters) is the rather similar Rhona Mitra. Perhaps Ms. Beckinsale just got tired of swinging all the swords and bouncing on all those wires, but (as Doomsday capably proved) Ms. Mitra can certainly carry a comic-booky action flick through the combined power of bad-ass attitude and fanboy-friendly sexiness. But those who'll walk out of Underworld 3 the happiest are those who adore the British character actor Bill Nighy, and would simply love to see him chew his fangs through the scenery for 90-some minutes. Some would bemoan the fact that such a classy actor is "stuck" doing such broad material, but for someone who grew up enjoying the gothic theatricality of Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, I say Nighy's having a damn good time playing Mega-Evil Vamp-Lord. And he leaps into the villainy with a palpable sense of enthusiasm. Oscar material? No. A good actor having some infectious fun? Damn straight.
Despite the fact that you probably know every plot point before it's delivered, the long-standing fans of this series should take to Rise of the Lycans with a small sense of pleasant surprise. Obviously the novelty of "vamps vs. werewolves" has waned since the first movie hit the scene, but if the producers choose to keep delivering popcorn flicks on this level, I'd be fine with one or two more trips to the Underworld. But I wouldn't mind a few surprises the next time out.