Universal studios is rebooting the Universal Monsters franchise and The Mummy was to be the first entry in the series and Dracula Untold the second but as it turns out, the Dracula movie was released first. It appears the status of the Dracula film as part of the franchise is not clear with director Gary Shore on record as saying it was optional for them to use it as that launching pad for the franchise but we’ll see how it all pans out. As for the film in front of us, it carries a whopping 100 million budget which the film appears to be more interested in justifying.
Dracula Untold starts out like some kind of retelling of the Dracula story but I think most if not all of it has some grounding in Coppola’s 1992 Dracula movie. This one starts with some exposition on Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) and his exploits in battle but the prince has presently become a decent family man with his lovely wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and a son. The plot really kicks off when he has to pay a tribute of a thousand boys plus his son to avert a war with Sultan Mehmed II and his massive Turkish army. Vlad out of desperation seeks help from a supernatural force played with some snake like intrigue and opulence by Charles Dance in his ghastly cave dwelling.
The serpentine vampire, after a bit of poisonous banter, dangles in front of him the prospect of super human power which Vlad desperately seeks but at a price we are all aware off. Vlad dies briefly but is reborn with the strength of a 100 men with which he dispatches the army of Sultan Mehmed II. He has an impressive array of abilities like command over bats, heightened vision and hearing and super speed which were similar to a certain batman video game. There’s an interesting 3 day twist on the bargain he strikes which was a bit of a novelty for me but ultimately to no avail because we know how it ends for Vlad but it is interesting the dynamic that develops between Vlad and his people after he attains super human strength. The Transylvanians begin to suspect something weird is going on, and Dracula’s standing as a persecuted monster begins despite everything he has put on the line for his people.
Gary Shore knows what he he’s gunning for right from the start which is spectacle over any real depth. He may be appearing to flirt with some interesting ideas on fear or a parallel with religion but everything is brushed over for stylish CGI battles of the hack and slash nature. He goes for the super hero origin style tropes which felt terribly nuts and bolt like in the moments after gaining his power where everything seems to just hit our central character, something we’ve seen in umpteen super hero films. The one thing I really detested about the film was the empathy for the central character it tries to draw from the audience. I have always known Dracula as someone to be feared and intrigued by but never someone to feel sorry for and it is that tone lacking in horror and fright that I found most disappointing. You almost ask if Dracula really needed an origin story.
Evans is pretty good her and puts forth convincing show of desperation, anguish and subsequent rage and the film is quite lively and enjoyable running at a crisp 92 minutes and that always scores points in my book but that doesn’t hide what ultimately we are ultimately served up; a Dracula film for people not really interested or fascinated the original lore, a Dracula film created to fit in the modern trend of super hero films with origin teasers to mark the beginning of a potential money making franchise and a Dracula film that completely neglects its mythical horror roots that have so often made the character an absorbing cinematic subject.