By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)
This movie claims to tell the spellbinding origin story of the most infamous vampire of horror legends. In all of its attempts to tell this “untold” back-story, the movie doesn’t really cast much of a spell. To its credit, the film has some appealing characters and actually gives Dracula an interesting motivation for seeking dark powers. However, the rest of the story plays out predictably and transparently and the overall experience feels rather contrived.
Bram Stoker’s iconic character was in fact inspired by a historical figure known as Vlad the Impaler. Dracula Untold combines some of Vlad’s story with original material and that of other Dracula tales to give audiences an origin story which dramatically explains how he came to be the dark vampire audiences know and love. The infamous Transylvanian Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) has already made a name for himself as a fierce and formidable warrior. This doesn’t stop the Turkish Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) from demanding one-thousand boys to serve in his army. In addition to these children, the Sultan orders Vlad to hand over his own son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson), to join the other boys. Out-manned and vulnerable, Prince Vlad desperately seeks the help of dark forces to fight his oppressors.
First time director, Gary Shore, helms this sometimes fun, but ultimately empty, movie that is not only plagued by trite writing, but also lacks the gravitas for a compelling story. The screenplay by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless disappoints with a transparent story and plot that has more than its share of contrivances and inconsistencies. Once Vlad channels his new found powers, they work well and fail miserably when it is dramatically convenient to the story. I actually like the concept that Vlad’s personal stake which leads him to embrace the dark side. However, once he goes down this regrettable path, everything else plays out with no surprises.
I was also rather surprised with inconsistencies of the performances as well. Luke Evans does his best with this often stale incarnation, but doesn’t always have the necessary charisma to make Dracula the legend he is known to be. Dominic Cooper disappointingly delivers a flat and wooden performance as the villainous Sultan. I expected much more from this actor who has impressed me with way better performances in the past. The beautiful Sarah Gadon, who plays Mirena, Vlad’s wife, performs decently, but her character has its limitations because of the writing. The one actor, who performs superbly, definitely gets underused in the movie. Charles Dance does a wonderfully delicious job portraying the hideous, evil and conniving Master Vampire, but unfortunately doesn’t have enough screen time.
While this movie isn’t horrendous, I wouldn’t recommend spending top dollar to see it in the theater. The movie does have some fun and exciting battle sequences and decent special effects, but not much else. The positive aspects are better off enjoyed at home on an HD television. If Universal does plan to continue Dracula’s story from where this film leaves off, I certainly hope they get writers who can deliver a story that really gets under their audience’s skin. I would love to see a Dracula that both horrifies and enchants. This film does neither.