October 8, 2014 Leave a comment
When Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) demands 1,000 Transylvanian boys for his army, and insists that the prince’s own son (Art Parkinson) join him at his place of residence, Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) declines and in his act of disobedience all but declares war on the Ottoman Empire. In order to better defend his people, Vlad journeys to Broken Tooth Mountain and barters with a vampire (Charles Dance) — the strength necessary to overpower his foes for an unquenchable thirst for human blood, and potentially — should he succumb to his cravings — the creature’s freedom. Re-Christened Dracula, and given three days to play with his new powers unconditionally before they take a more permanent hold, Vlad engages Mehmed’s army.
It’s been a while since we last saw Dracula on the big screen — I think, since 2004 saw him take on both Blade and Van Helsing — and Universal seems to think that that’s really long enough. Not only has the studio decided to reboot the character, however, but to re-imagine its Universal Monsters series in a vein similar to Marvel’s mega-franchise. As such Dracula Untold has a fair amount riding on it, not just for the sake of any future sequels but for the stability of the Shared Universe it aims to cross-pollinate. We may not be able to draw conclusions on either matter until the Box Office receipts have been counted, but what can be assessed is the quality of the film itself — and, sadly, the prognosis is not good.
At no point does Dracula Untold feel like a fresh take on the character, let alone a definitive one, but rather a stop-gap to future adventures. It’s ninety minutes of preamble, of backstory, that will likely have no importance further down the line. The script is purely functional, the supporting characters largely interchangeable and the narrative entirely lacking in momentum or originality. Gary Shore’s film is more video game movie than traditional Hammer (or indeed Universal) Horror — complete with unconvincing CGI and incomprehensible editing — and seems completely unconcerned with provoking its audience, let alone scaring them. What’s more, the film’s two or three plot points are so predictable that even at little over an hour and a half in length it still feels plodding and over-long. It’s a far cry from The Mummy, anyway — the next film in line for a reboot.
It’s not all bad, however. Luke Evans is perfectly passable as Vlad the Impaler, and while it’s hardly an original idea to cast the Prince of Wallachia as Bram Stoker’s famous Count (he is after all widely believed to be the inspiration for the character) it is a nice touch to have him ‘impale’ other vampires, Slayer-style, in the final act. And then there’s the simple joy of seeing a vampire drink blood and shy away from sunlight, which of course applies to every vampire movie that’s not Twilight. The main highlight, however, is the epilogue — Universal’s attempt at the Marvel credits sequence. It sets up a rather more promising sequel, keeping the stronger elements (Evans, Dance…Evans and Dance) and leaving almost everything else behind; though whether this is enough to justify the £7 you’ve just spent on your cinema ticket, or encourage you to spend another £7 in two years’ time, is another matter.
Better than I, Frankenstein, at the very least, Universal Picture’s Dracula Untold is still an uninspiring and quite probably unnecessary resurrection of one of cinema’s greatest icons. On balance, an argument could certainly be made that this particular iteration of Dracula should have stayed that way…untold.