Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Critic
Ohh, what to do with a priceless Hollywood commodity like that of a fanged prince of darkness, doomed to live in eternal anguish over love lost and an insatiable thirst for the blood of man?
Why, revisit all the familiar tropes by way of a watered down script heavy on action but oh so light on actual plot content, of course!
With this first of a planned series of Universal Monsters films crossed over à la Marvel, Dracula Untold opts to focus on the wartime perils of a desperate prince whose deal with the forces of darkness may prove too costly, in order to win the battle against Ottoman legions of soldiers.
In the film, a wise and just prince of Transylvania, Vlad Dracul aka The Impaler (Luke Evans), sees his hand forced when the Ottoman Turks he pays tribute to in silver coins demand he hand over one thousand young boys of the realm in order to convert them into loyal soldiers of the Empire.
Refusing to hand over his son amongst many others, Vlad seeks out a fanged monster (Charles Dance) from a nearby cavern, who reveals himself to be an ancient vampire who offers Dracul a deal: drink his blood, gain vampiric powers to defeat the enemy, but if any blood is consumed within 3 days, he will lose his humanity and forever become a creature of the night.
Equipped with super speed, agility, reflexes, endurance and the useful ability to transform into a cloud of bats at will, Dracul leads his men into a veritable slaughter against his enemy, led by Mehmed the Second (Dominic Cooper).
The well-worn plot device of untold power and supernatural supremacy over foes is an all-too familiar one in action and fantasy films. Despite casting a dashing actor in the lead, and giving his character purpose in defeating an enemy, the director of Dracula Untold finds little other direction for his hero, resulting in a rudderless quest with very little concern for the important meat of the story, such as Drac’s relationship with his wife and son, nor any other psychological quandary in his becoming a creature of the undead.
Indeed, story elements are so predictably set up that only characters without psychic powers couldn’t see them coming. Forget plausibility (so, an ancient vampire kills countless visitors but just lets in Drac and offers him free powers? Hiss…) and forget logic, when watching this piece. The conflict is so one-sided that by the time Dominic Cooper shows up as the ruthless leader of the Turks, you couldn’t possibly care less.
The film has plenty of visually impressive set pieces and a denouement that has shades of Interview with the Vampire to it, likely as an easier means to connect it to later Universal movies, though if this first installment is any indication of what is to come, I can only hope that the franchise goes to ground at high noon, leaving little to no trace of its existence, much to our benefit.
1 out of 5
Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.