Movie Review: “Dracula Untold”

Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Godon, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance
Gary Shore

It seems like everyone is getting an origin story these days, so it was only a matter of time before Hollywood treated its original bad boy to one of his own. Unfortunately, the last thing that anyone needed was another film that tries to humanize a classic villain with a backstory explaining why they broke bad, especially one as iconic as Dracula. Whoever thought it was a good idea to turn the Prince of Darkness into a romantic hero clearly doesn’t understand the essence of the character, because it completely undermines everything that makes him so fascinating. There isn’t a whole lot of the Dracula we know and love in “Dracula Untold,” and although that means very little blood-sucking from the man himself, that hasn’t stopped director Gary Shore from sucking the fun out of cinema’s greatest villain.

Inspired by the real-life story of Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), who was taken hostage as a teenager and forced to fight for the Ottoman Empire, the movie picks up decades later after the Transylvanian prince has put down his sword in order to rule his people. But when Turkish sultan Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) demands 1,000 Transylvanian youths for his army – including Vlad’s only son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson) – Vlad refuses to submit, resulting in a Turkish retaliation that reduces Castle Dracula to a pile of rubble. Grossly outnumbered and desperate to protect his people, Vlad makes a deal with an ancient vampire (Charles Dance) who lives in the nearby mountains by drinking his blood in exchange for ultimate power. If Vlad can resist the overwhelming thirst for blood for three days, he’ll revert back to his mortal self, but of course, we already know that isn’t going to happen.

Refashioning Dracula as a misunderstood antihero is a difficult proposition on its own, and Shore doesn’t do himself any favors by having the Transylvanians speak with British accents. Whether it’s because Evans was incapable of delivering a suitable accent, or Shore just wanted to move away from the stereotypical Dracula performance, it’s an incredibly odd and distracting decision, especially when the rival Turks sound exactly as they should. That may seem like a pretty trivial matter in the grand scheme of things, but when your movie is supposedly based on historical events, you’re just begging to be criticized when you can’t even get something as simple as that right. And as you might expect, “Dracula Untold” only goes downhill from there.

Luke Evans certainly isn’t the worst choice to play Vlad, but while he has the right look and brooding presence, he delivers every line like he’s performing a Shakespearian adaptation of “300” – all bark and no bite, quite literally at times. Dominic Cooper is also wasted as the villainous sultan (although at least he bothers to do an accent), whose biggest scene is a climactic battle with Evans that should be over in seconds, but is drawn out into a ridiculous fight over a mound of silver coins (a vampire weakness) designed to make it seem like Mehmed is a formidable opponent. The only actor who does anything of note is Charles Dance, shining in his sole scene as the menacing master vampire that lays out all the rules for Vlad’s transformation. It’s your typical exposition-heavy sequence, but Dance makes it a lot less tedious to sit through thanks to his commanding performance.

For all of its faults, however, “Dracula Untold” fails primarily for the same reason as Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” – the man before the legend isn’t as interesting as the legend himself. Not even the action is very entertaining, relying so heavily on Vlad’s ability to shape shift into a colony of bats (a neat trick the first 20 times it’s used) that most of the battle scenes are dominated by a blurry, black tornado that makes it almost impossible to tell what’s going on. They’re every bit as boring and uninspired as the story itself, and if this is Universal’s attempt at rebooting their classic monsters, they might want to rethink that direction before ruining another property. There’s a good reason this part of the Dracula lore remained untold, and it should’ve stayed that way.