Dracula Untold is another attempt to put a fresh spin on an old tale, and this time it's Dracula who's finding himself in need of a revamp. Universal decided to ostensibly base this interpretation of Dracula on the legend who was supposedly the inspiration for Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel, Vlad 'the impaler' Tepes (Luke Evans), thus mixing history with a strong spoonful of fantasy. Vlad Tepes is ruler of Romania and is enjoying his well earned peace at home after he spent his childhood being trained to be a Janissary soldier for the Turks. It was here where Vlad earned himself the nickname 'the impaler' and became feared throughout the lands due to his cruel methods of suppressing any opposition to the Turks. Life has been good for Vlad after he's given his freedom, but when Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) demands 1,000 boys for his army, including his own son, Vlad begs Mehmed to allow his son to stay by his side, but Mehmed refuses.
Vlad is forced to make a decision, give up his own son to the tortures that he himself endured at the hands of the Turks, or guarantee an all out war with the far superior Turks. Vlad kills the Turks at his door knowing full well that they're incapable of winning a full scale war against the Turks. Seeking power, Vlad treks up a mountain where a 'thing' is known to reside and he begs it for the power to annihilate the Turks. The Master Vampire (Charles Dance) gives Vlad a taste of his power and says if he can resist the urge to drink blood for three days, then he'll revert, if not, he'll stay a vampire, permanently. So in a Faustian pact with the master vampire, Vlad agrees to all the terms put forth and becomes a vampire himself to protect Romania from the Turks.
I've been looking forward to Dracula Untold for a while now. I want to see a new Universal monsters shared universe succeed, and Vlad Tepes is an immensely interesting man, but I have to say that Dracula Untold was everything I was hoping it wouldn't be. It was far too brisk for a start, glossing over entire arcs, character development, any real sense of history and the characters themselves, plus the editing could seem really clunky and erratic at times. As a whole, I felt like Dracula Untold was very rough around the edges, a more experienced director might have been able to make a more seamless movie, but the rookie director struggled to keep it going and coherent. It's glaringly obvious that Dracula Untold was designed to appeal to the comic book demographics.
The bats (Batman), admittedly this similarity was inevitable to a certain point, the bat vision (Batman's sonar vision, Daredevil's sonar vision), the red eyes and red cape (Superman), Vlad discovering his powers (Spider Man), Vlad controlling the weather (Storm), etc. There seemed to be a lot of elements that were 'borrowed' from other superhero movies. Yet despite all of Dracula's amplified powers, the massive battle sequences were underwhelming and frustrating, they were full of quick cuts and were constantly obscured by fog and blurry vision. We're shown practically nothing that's worth seeing. Certain plot points were nonsensical and often ludicrous. Everything that was worthwhile in Dracula Untold was unfortunately shown in the trailers beforehand, and I fucking hate it when that happens.
Here's the thing with Dracula Untold, it presents itself as a pseudo historical 'origins' movie about Vlad the Impaler becoming the Dracula of legend, but there is nothing historical here except the names, and there's very little in common with Dracula. Dracula Untold tries to be historical and mythical, but it fails in both regards. Dracula is supposed to strike fear into the hearts of people, but this Dracula was an overly sentimental antihero. Fear is the last emotion I felt while I was watching Dracula Untold. Universal went to great lengths to try make Dracula a ridiculously sympathetic antihero, even going so far as to create another 'master vampire' who can be the 'bad' vampire to shift most of the villainy off Dracula.
Whenever we're dealing with Dracula, I can't help but compare it to Bram Stoker's Dracula as it's probably the closest representation of the book we've ever seen. In Coppola’s version Vlad’s conversion from a relatively good man to an evil man is a true tragedy. While the prince is crazed over the death of his beloved wife, he curses God, and God curses him right back. Gary Oldman plays Vlad as a man who had committed terrible atrocities in the name of God, impaling countless innocents in the name of god, and is then repaid with blood of his own wife and family. It’s a really good, tragic story.
Comparatively, In Dracula Untold there’s never any real tragedy to Vlad. Sure, Vlad was a terrifying general who notoriously impaled people, but it’s rationalized away by saying that all that impaling was really for the greater good. "I slaughtered one village so I didn’t have to slaughter ten others!" There’s no darkness or maliciousness in Vlad at all. In fact, they go to great lengths to show how benevolent he was, even as he was impaling people by the hundreds, probably thousands. Every violent act he commits, even when he’s a vampire, are all justified as being for the greater good. That’s fine if you’re talking about some antihero comic book character, but not for Dracula. I thought they might have Vlad go drunk with 'vampire power', but that didn't happen either, Vlad seemed more than glad to be rid of his newfound vampire powers. It was only through the most ridiculously contrived scenario in which Vlad was basically forced to succumb to the power. Someone needed to remind the writers that Dracula is supposed to be a fucking terrifying villain!
I actually feel sorry for Luke Evans. I liked him as Dracula, but I didn't like him as this Dracula. I just wish he was given better material to work with because I think he's a good actor capable of giving us a great Dracula. I don't want to dwell on this, but yes, the PG rating hurt Dracula Untold on practically every level. They probably pushed the PG rating as far as they could, but it wasn't nearly enough for a Dracula movie. I want to watch a Dracula movie and feel scared and terrified, I don't want to feel like I'm watching a comic book movie, not when it comes to Dracula and especially not when it comes to Vlad the Impaler, of all people. Ironically, the best bit of the movie came in the last thirty seconds of the movie that was added on as an afterthought. So much wasted potential here...
Written by - The Sentry - 08/11/2014