I don’t want to see a Dracula movie where the titular character is a loving father. I don’t want to see a Dracula movie where the titular character is a caring husband. I’m not all that interested in a movie that shows Dracula making heroic sacrifices to strengthen Transylvania’s military might and protect the nation’s people. In short, I don’t want what Dracula Untold is selling.
At least, not yet. That doesn’t mean I’m necessarily ready to pull the plug on a Universal Monsters Shared Universe – which Gary Shore’s Dracula Untold is supposed to unleash, and which is teased in the closing minutes of this lukewarm origin story. In those moments, Dracula Untold finally taps into a thrilling vein, transporting a lethal and immortal beast into our world, where untold horrors can unfurl. Prior to that, though, this is the lamest Dracula movie fans have been offered in quite some time.
Shore’s Dracula Untold seems to have been made in response to the overwhelming popularity of HBO’s Game of Thrones crowd, and it apes that programs style. It’s a shrewd marketing move, but one that alters the mythology of Bram Stoker’s iconic creature by cherrypicking details from the grey areas of the character's rich history. Welsh thesp Luke Evans (Fast & Furious 6, The Hobbit trilogy) plays Vlad the Impaler, an orphaned boy turned bloodythirsty soldier who – we’re told – returned to Transylvania after dispensing thousands of Turkish rivals on the battlefield, and now enjoys peace in his native land. But the Turks are always threatening, and his fey opponent, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), demands that 1,000 boys been secured from Transylvania to serve as Turkish slaves. Vlad, of course, has a son – so he looks for any additional powers that could help him ward off the turks.
Thankfully, like the beach community of Santa Carla, Transylvania has access to vampires.
Dracula Untold tries hard to straddle the line between camp and credibility. We’re supposed to laugh when a minion purrs, “Yes, master” to Vlad, because it obviously calls to mind the catchphrase of Doctor Frankenstein’s stooge, Igor. But Dracula Untold also wants to be taken seriously… most of the time.
Chunks of what might have been a better movie go missing, yet Evans always smolders as Vlad, torn by the choice to accept the powers of Dracula – even if it means losing his beloved family. You see, Vlad knows that an ancient evil (personified by Charles Dance) lives in a cave on the outskirts of Transylvania. And when Vlad accepts the Master Vampire’s offer, Dracula Untold starts to take flight. A hollow, badly-CGI’d flight. But a flight, nonetheless.
Dracula Untold just has an identity crisis, and it prevents the movie from ever choosing a proper lane. It isn’t “horror,” and is never scary, though vampires finally get to hunker down on unsuspecting soldiers during a battle that is too long in development. It’s more swords-and-sandals, with characters giving Braveheart-esque speeches from the backs of horses, and Vlad battling Mehmed with swords in the climactic finish. I never thought I’d see a Dracula movie that ended with a sword fight. Now that I have, I can tell you it doesn’t work.
There’s hope for the future of Dracula Untold, though. Now that Universal has worked through this thin and underdeveloped origin, they can move on to building the “Monster Squad” that’s supposed to involve a new Mummy and a possible Wolfman. Charles Dance’s character is the key – and his final line in this film opens the door to new possibilities. And despite the silly CGI choices in this film, I’d welcome another, to see if anything has improved.