Back in the days when I was healthy - before a seasonal virus transformed my previously sparkly-clean lungs into two mildewed tea-bags (i.e. about 5 days ago) - Karen and I enjoyed a rare treat: a night out at the cinema whilst our friendly neighbourhood babysitter did exactly what it said she'd do on her tin.
Nothing too weighty or worthy for us. Oh no. It had been a hard week and we fancied something "light" and "fantastic". We also both fancied some cinematic eye candy. Kate Beckinsale for me and Michael Sheen for Karen. "Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans" then, seemed a rather apposite choice.
The first 2 Underworld films are universally judged as "frustrating". The cinematography is excellent. The casting is good. The use of technology within the age old tale of Vampire vs Werewolf was smart and intelligent. The scripts weren't half bad. And yet...
And yet they both fell short of the mark. And fell short in ways that were extremely annoying to the viewer.
"They could have been so much more..." "They almost made a great vampire movie..." Etc.
The first film was great right up to the final battle sequence with the long awaited vampire / werewolf hybrid. The effects men caused the film to fall down at the last hurdle. The resultant monster was clumsy looking and visually risible.
The second film... well. The second film had a storyline which should have resulted in the death penalty being given to the script writers immediately. It was lazy. No other word for it and a complete waste of the talents of both Kate Beckinsale and Bill Nighy. Gah. Let down again!
So I wasn't expecting a great deal from the third Underworld film...
Except it did feature the startling Michael Sheen reprising his role once more as Lucian the Lycan / human hybrid. Now Sheen, I have to say, had been faultless in his earlier Underworld performances but the role of Lucian was given too little screen time for his character and Sheen's acting skills to impinge much onto the consciousness of the general viewer. He was given far too little to do.
Not so in "Rise Of The Lycans". He carries the entire film. In fact he doesn't just carry the film as hoof it straight out of the chasm of disappointment and into the starry stratosphere of "total film satisfaction".
Mr Sheen (shines all things clean) is already building up a humungous career for himself in Hollywood and I suspect his rise will be (unlike the Lycans) meteoric. On our tellies in the UK he's been fabulous as Nero. A revelation as Kenneth Williams. And at the cinema, if the critics are to be believed, he's totally masterful as Frost in the current Frost/Nixon film.
He's going to be big.
"Rise Of The Lycans" is the best of the Underworld films by far. Sheen brings depth, poignancy, believability, empathy - his full and formidable acting range in fact - to his role as Lucian. Plus (according to Karen) he looks damned hot in leather. He's also surprisingly believable in the brutal fight sequences. It's bizarre to see such a sensitive character actor suddenly tranformed into an action / romantic hero. And yet he accomplishes it all effortlessly and, most importantly, without losing any of his sensitivity. The man has my respect. He has finally brought something much needed to the Underworld franchise: a sense of emotional relevance.
Bill Nighy reprises his role as Viktor and is just joyous to watch as always - totally convincing as the grand vampire patriarch and the bird-blue eyes are a nice touch. He somehow manages to be cold, cruel, callous, delicously English and yet always "warm uncle Bill Nighy" all at the same time.
And as for Kate Beckinsale... well, there is no effing Kate Beckinsale. Apart from a brief appearance at the very end that is - no more than a blinking cameo!
Cue curses and sundry howls of frustration!
I've been robbed!
I've been done!
I've been remiss and probably should have read the film synopsis more closely and realized that this was a prequel not a sequel to the Underworld series! Doh!
So instead of Kate we were served up Rhona Mitra as Viktor's sensually lipped vampire daughter, Sonja, and Lucian's illicit love interest. Yes, she's eye candy. Yes, she's good. But she's just not Kate Beckinsale in tight black leather no matter which way you cut it, so I was a mite grumpy and a little bit sulky for the first third of the film to say the least.
And yet it still managed to completely win me over.
Now from me, folks, that's a recommendation...