*** (out of 5)
October 10, 2014
Luke Evans as VLAD
Sarah Gadon as MIRENA
Dominic Cooper as MEHMED
Art Parkinson as INGERAS
Charles Dance as MASTER VAMPIRE
Directed by: Gary Shore
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I am an unabashed fan of the Universal Monsters. I’ve watched the old “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “Wolf Man” and “Mummy” movies since I was a kid, and I’ve enjoyed (for the most part) all of their iterations and team ups. It is for this reason that even if “Dracula Untold” isn’t the greatest version of the Dracula legend, I welcome it as a reboot of this shared universe from the 1940s.
Just as Tod Browning’s 1931 “Dracula” started monster fever at Universal, the same character is used to bring the stories to life again, hinting at connected sequels and a greater story than just one movie. And as a bonus, we’ve got vampires on the movie screen again in October, and these sure as shit don’t sparkle.
“Dracula Untold” lays out the history of Count Dracula, who started his life as Prince Vlad in Transylvania in the 1400s. Similar to how Francis Ford Coppola gave us some history to the character with his brilliantly-made “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” in 1992, “Dracula Untold” lets us in on the history of the character without all the focus on that nasty impaling that Vlad really did.
In this story, Vlad (Luke Evans) is trying to protect his family and his people from the Turkish army. The Sultan (Dominic Cooper) demands that the Transylvanians give him one thousand of their sons – including Vlad’s own boy – to seed his army. Unwilling to make that sacrifice, Vlad goes to war with the Turks. In order to defeat their oppressive and overpowering army, Vlad gives himself to a vampire in order to get the supernatural powers to use in battle.
“Dracula Untold” is more of a historical action film than a horror movie, but that’s okay with the name of Dracula on the banner. I’m okay with a little history as long as the monstrous elements of the movie are still in play, and they are.
The story is a bit uneven, the biggest challenge being to paint Vlad as a good guy when he eventually will become the monster we all know and love. The script does this by focusing on his family and friends. It glosses over the ruthless acts of brutality that the real Vlad committed. (Spoiler alert: Vlad Tepes was not a nice person in real life.) The script even manages to justify Vlad impaling entire villages for the greater good.
The biggest strike against this film – and hopefully it won’t be as pervasive in future installments to the new Universal Monsters movies – is the overuse of CGI. This isn’t used just to show the vampire powers and the epic battles, but to enhance the vampire vision (which looks like a retread effect from 2003’s “Daredevil”) and to desaturate the film to the point of almost being black-and-white. (Trust me, I appreciate the homage to the Tod Browning classic, but in this sense, it comes off as pretentious and unoriginal.) At least things are better than Lionsgate’s attempt to reboot Frankenstein earlier this year with the ludicrous and inept “I, Frankenstein.”
“Dracula Untold” has some decent action sequences, but it does suffer from an anticlimactic climax that actually becomes laughable at times. However, I can forgive a lot of this in order to found a new version of the character.
By the end, I was okay with much of the movie as a stepping stone to more Universal Monster movies, and the promise is definitely there within the film itself. Let’s just see if Universal can deliver them with the same entertainment value as they did seventy years ago.