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“Lycans” gives new meaning to ancient conflict

Cary Elwes said in 1987’s “The Princess Bride,” “Rodents of unusual size? I don’t think they exist.” They existed in that film and they are now out of the Fire Swamp and in a theater near you in “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,” a prequel to the other two “Underworld” films. Never fear, though, these Lycans are werewolves that can still take human form. They’re hideous and wonderfully icky in their flesh-tearing, human-meets-beast glory.

If you’re not familiar with this particular series of films, here’s a little back story: Vampires and werewolves came from the same father whose sons were bitten by a vampire and a wolf, respectively. Their knack for immortality started with their father’s DNA enabling him to adapt to a plague which killed everybody else. Once bitten by the first werewolf and any thereafter, a werewolf was not able to return to their human form, just as vampires were no longer human. In the first film, we are introduced to the war between vampires and Lycans that has been fought for centuries, with only bits and pieces as to how this war began and why it has continued for so long.

In “Lycans,” we learn that the vampires, in their aristocratic snobbery, tried to destroy all the werewolves from the beginning, claiming that they were mindless beasts unable to have a quality society and therefore, unworthy of existence. At one point, however, the head vampire, Viktor, imprisoned a werewolf and gave birth to Lucian, who was born in human form (don’t ask me how — this is an unfortunate hole in the story line). The mother was promptly killed and with Lucian’s life spared, he was raised as a slave and favorite pet by Viktor and was the first of the Lycans, able to turn into a werewolf, but also able to return to human form. Lucian was used to create more Lycans, breading a race that could be used to work as slaves and also protect the vampires’ coven during the day.

Unlike some other prequels, “Lycans” doesn’t simply try to capitalize on what has previously been earned at the box office by its series’ predecessors — it actually holds its own as a film while it adds deeper, darker layers to the series. For those who have never seen any or all of the “Underworld” series, “Lycans” can be watched before or after you’ve seen the other two. If you’re like me, you’ll want to watch the first two again after seeing “Lycans” to put all the pieces together for an even clearer picture.

Though there are some down-sides to the film — a couple of hokey visual effects and a “Clash of the Titans” quality they ran into at times or the inconsistencies between the scenes in “Lycans” that were also flash-backs in the first “Underworld” — the script keeps a dialogue that would hold its own even without the fantasy. The actors lead you into a trance of belief that these characters really exist and they do it without the patronizing clichés that other films with vampires and werewolves usually offer.

“Lycans” is visually stunning at times, and though they could do without so much blood squirting from necks, the fight choreography and stunt work are exciting enough that even a simple fall on the ground with a blow to the back of the head made the audience vocal. The love story within the film tugs at the heart instead of being a burden, which is often difficult for action movies.

“Underworld: Rise of the Lycans” raises the question: what makes a being more humane or worthy of a high quality of life than another? The implications of the control and understanding Lucian had — over himself and others — cause the audience to think while being entertained, which was an unexpected surprise.

I was bitten by the “Underworld” series from the first film’s release and after “Lycans,” there’s no turning back.

3 out of 4 Stars

Our View: A bigger budget wouldn’t make this film – its script, acting, and direction carry it enough.

Summary: Love between two of a different race, and love for self, begins a war between vampires and lycans.

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