“Underworld – Rise of the Lycans” morphs so easily into “Underwear – Size of the Lycra” that you wonder why Hollywood producers don't hire people just to keep an ear out for such potential howlers.

Doesn't really matter, though, when you're dealing with something as transparent as the “Underworld” franchise, and there I go again.

I missed the first two “Underworld” movies, which may be too bad, because I just found out that Kate Beckinsale was in both of them, and she's an actress I still have hopes for.

Kate's only second movie was Kenneth Branagh's “Much Ado About Nothing” where she played the falsely-accused Hero – that's the character's name – and where she was fresh and funny and vibrant and altogether affecting. Then she matured into something of a sex goddess and started starring in improbable monster movies, like the laff riot “Van Helsing” with Hugh Jackman. I hold on to my narrowing dream that she will one day see the error of her ways and go back to Shakespeare.

Anyway, I sort of wanted to see if I could miss the first two episodes of anything and still make sense out of the third. That could be a chore with something like “The Lord of the Rings,” where the structure of the story builds architectonically in a complex and satisfying crescendo, which is almost as true of the movies as of the books. I can imagine someone, faced with “The Return of the King” right out of the gate, withdrawing in confusion from the Pelennor Fields.

So what happened was, I dropped into the third “Underworld” movie, and there were no surprises. None.

There are two races: the Lycans, who are werewolves, and the Vampires, who are vampires. I'm a little shaky on which race got created when, and how; except of course for the Humans, who are basically groceries. But as for plot points, you've got the armored warrior fighting off werewolves who turns out to be...Right. And the downtrodden hero who's in love with...Yep. And the vicious tyrant who really loves his daughter, who betrays him by...Sigh. And the gigantic, noble Black slave who saves...You guessed it.

And then there's the lighting question, which began when we started turning all those graphic novels into films. That question is, how dark is dark enough? From “Sin City” up till right now it's been getting darker, until the whole movie, like this one, is told somewhere between grey-blue and black. By the time we get to the end, which promises (yet another!) sequel, you're longing for the sight of an apple, or a rose, or a slice of quiche. Film noir, my dears, is frequently a metaphor: those black-and-whites gave the grand illusion, if you will, of rich colors.

Bill Nighy as Viktor, lord of the Vampires, is having a good run this time because his make-up only involves clown-white and some contact lenses, as opposed to his role in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, where he had to wear stuff on his face that wiggled. (Is anybody still saying that acting is an easy way to get rich?)

I tell a lie here: there was one surprise in the movie, and that was seeing Michael Sheen as a fantasy hero. Michael is the weedy little guy who usually plays half-wits (Joe in “Gallowglass”) or acerbic geniuses (David Frost in “Frost and Nixon”) or sometimes Tony Blair. How he made the leap to the loin-cloth league is anybody's guess, except I suppose he's been working out, because he doesn't look too bad in that article of archaic underwear, and here we are back at the title.

There's a big-deal noisy climax at the end of this movie, and I have no recollection of what it was about, so I think Michael Sheen and the absent Kate Beckinsale should both go back to Masterpiece Theatre, where they might co-star in an adaptation of Gilligan's Wake, which could really confuse a few viewers.