Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the most enigmatic and long-lasting villains in the history of fiction, though his origins have been reworked numerous times. In Dracula Untold’s taste of revisionism, Luke Evans stars as Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler to his foes), the Prince of Transylvania. Once the most feared war tyrant in the land, Vlad has finally established a peace for his people that has lasted a decade.
When the Turkish Sultan, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), demands 1000 of Transylvania’s boys for war, including his own young son Ingeras, Vlad defies his Sultan and inadvertently begins another age of death for his home. Realizing he is incapable of defeating an entire Turkish army, Vlad turns to an isolated Master Vampire (Charles Dance) to gift him with his own demonic abilities. Should Vlad resist the urge to drink blood for three days after, he will have saved his people as well as his own soul. Should he fail, his soul shall forever remain damned.
When it comes to casting, director Gary Shore found just the right actor to offer up this sales pitch of Dracula as a heroic victim. It is a lofty goal to attempt to convince an audience that a character who carries eternal life only through the veins of innocents could ever have a redeeming back story. Yet, through Evans’ poetic eyes and soft delivery, the actor almost single-handedly overcomes the meandering and ludicrous plot points to accomplish just this.
Evans’ Vlad is a man of principle, of family. His motives throughout the film are described as those of a noble man, fulfilling his promise to his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) to protect Ingeras. His father sold him into slavery as a pawn of war and Vlad flatly refuses to do the same with his own flesh-and-blood. The issue with this is that such a rash decision pits the entirety of a Turkish revolution not simply against Vlad and his family, but also against his homeland. The film wants us to see Vlad as a man of honor, yet his actions are more indicative in a man of impulsive selfishness, and these actions ultimately doom his own kingdom.
Evans does everything in his power to hoist the ridiculous story onto his able shoulders, dragging it across the finish line of relatability. His soulful portrait of his own haunted past does give a certain credence to his refusal to part with his own son (Art Parkinson), unfortunately his ridiculously expedient discovery of vampiric possibilities takes that goodwill and promptly thrusts it into direct sunlight.
Not even an actor capable of such brilliant menace as Charles Dance, nor a strong turn from leading man Evans, can rectify the misgivings in Dracula Untold’s script. Tweaking Dracula’s origins is fine, it has been done numerous times before in both film and novels, yet some of the choices here will make even the most forgiving of audiences giggle at the amount of processed cheese present. From the basic plot to the random appearance of every vampire trope known to man, Dracula unfolds due to its own sheer audacity.
When Vlad first assaults a Turkish front, he manages to wipe out hundreds of soldiers by himself, and in true Chuck Norris fashion they attack almost one-at-a-time. This is meant to be a powerful display of Vlad’s newfound power, instead it comes across as Vlad facing off against the most horribly trained soldiers in the history of war. Dominic Cooper’s lax portrayal of Mehmed does little to help either, as his character seemingly shrugs off the enormous body count he stumbles across while marching forward with his focused vengeance. These are the moments where the audience become almost bobbleheads from all of the shoulder shrugging necessary to carry on.
As Vlad’s power increases, he is also apparently gifted with the ability to control every single bat within 500 miles of his current location. At one point in the film, Vlad facilitates a bat-nado of epic proportions, using his shroud of vermin almost as the right-hand-of-God, delivering a fateful blow to an entire Turkish army. It is an astounding visual moment in the film, and also one of the most idiotic concepts put to celluloid this year.
That is not to say the movie is without merit: it runs a scant 92 minutes and the pacing rarely offers any downtime. Like Van Helsing before it, this is a film that many will refuse to bypass on cable 5 years from now. The visuals are eye-popping, the action is tense, and the very last scene manages to elicit our excitement for the intended franchise’s future. If only the story told here made some semblance of sense, Dracula Untold could have been something a bit more special.
Dracula seeks to take a deeper bite out of one of literature and filmdom’s most vicious killers, regardless of the fact that we all know the eventual outcome. Unfortunately, it forgets all of the vicious killing and instead gives us a nonsensical picture of a tortured hero, forced by nobility into his life of mutilation. Even with stellar performances from Evans and Dance, it is a story that was better off, well…untold.
2.5 out of 5 stars.