For a movie with the title “Dracula Untold“, it’s a story that’s painfully vague. We all know Bram Stoker’s classic monster. Some may know that the character was loosely based on Prince Vlad the Impaler. Director Gary Shore and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless seemed content to keep it at that with a bit of an emphasis on Drac’s family and then mostly relying of CGI bats. The film plays like a treatment rather than a real script. It’s lean to the point of being anemic as Vlad’s transformation into Dracula doesn’t feel tragic but rather a slog towards the inevitable peppered with lame action and stock characters. Dracula Untold proves some stories aren’t worth telling.
In 1442, the Turkish Empire stole young boys to fight in their army. Among them was Vlad, a young man who was so good at killing that he became known as “The Impaler” because he would leave his victims impaled on giant wooden spikes as a warning to others. When the war ends, he goes to live a quiet, peaceful life as Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) of Transylvania where he cares for his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and son Ingeras (Art Parkinson). When the Turish ruler Mehmed (Dominic Cooper in brownface) comes to take Ingeras to fight in a new war, Vlad rebels by killing some of Mehmed’s soldiers. To save his people from Mehmed’s forces, Vlad makes a deal with the Master Vampire (Charles Dance): Vlad will get all of a vampire’s strengths and weaknesses, and if he can resist feeding for three days, he’ll become mortal again.
Guess what Vlad doesn’t manage to resist for three days. Dracula Untold wants to carry on like a tragedy, but it just mopes around as it hunts for overcast skies and waits for Vlad to turn into a bunch of bats. Vlad’s feelings for his family are perfunctory as there’s no specific love for his son or wife. They’re just family that should be protected, which is fine, but it’s not a remarkable impetus for a legend. It also doesn’t really ground him since he already has blood on his hands before we meet him and he’s got a Master Vampire living nearby who can provide superpowers.
His superpowers are also remarkably inefficient. When a small army comes to take Dracula’s castle, he’s the only one who fights and proceeds to take out every soldier by using his vampire power. I don’t care how fast he moves or bats he can transform into; there has to be a better way to kill thousands of soldiers. But that’s really the only way the action goes in this movie: lots and lots of CGI bats. And when it comes to the close-quarters combat, Shore relies on shaking the camera around, so the bats are really the best way to go.
Additionally, Vlad’s weaknesses seem to far outweigh his strengths. He’s completely vulnerable to sunlight and silver, both of which make his skin sizzle off, although he can regenerate when he’s in shadow or not touching silver. All Mehmed needed to do to win was give a little silver to all of his soldiers and fight in the daytime. The movie could have given him the “Well, there was no way for him to know,” out, but instead chooses to give him a piece of knowledge that was never divulged at any point in the movie until he reveals it. So Mehmed probably knows everything; he’s just really dumb.
Not that Vlad is a great ruler by any stretch as Mehmed’s forces whittle away at Vlad’s people and constantly force him into a corner. The only thing Vlad knows how to be is a “merciful” monster who explains that he only impaled all those innocent people so that others would submit in fear. “Sometimes what the world needs is a monster,” Vlad says (he may as well have tacked the word “franchise” onto the end), which isn’t a bad sentiment if he did anything monstrous on screen. Instead, he kills a bunch of enemy forces that want to enslave his people. He’s a monster because we know the name, not because he’s a bad guy. We’re meant to pity him because he’s a hero. He’s just really, really bad at being heroic.
If Dracula Untold is really meant to kick off the Universal Monsters crossover universe for Universal Pictures, we’re in for some awful, lazy pictures. Ngila Dickson‘s costumes are easily the best thing in the movie (an easy accomplishment, but they’re still great), and giving Vlad and the Master Vampire radar-vision is the kind of creative touch that’s lacking for the rest of the film. And those are the only nice things I have to say about a movie that coasts on the name of its protagonist while adding nothing of value to the mythology. It’s Dracula Blah Blah Blah.