Dracula Untold (dir. Gary Shore, 2014) – When Turk warlord Mehmed demands from Prince Vlad a thousand boys and his son for an army, Vlad seeks a power to protect his kingdom at a terrible cost.
Reanimated in the vein of CG-driven dark fantasy action, Dracula makes an unexciting return for the telling of a barren, forgettable origins story.
After Vlad’s meagre 200 on-screen incarnations, the classic vampire mythology has found new life in Gary Shore’s feature film debut Dracula Untold. In this reinvented history that nobody asked for, trouble stirs when Ottoman warlord Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) demands a tribute of a thousand boys from Prince Vlad Dracula (Luke Evans) to build his army.
To protect his son and defend his kingdom, Vlad resorts to seeking out the Master Vampire (Charles Dance) to usurp unearthly powers. As with all wishes granted, it comes with a dangerous cost: the risk of his releasing and becoming of a monster.
We all know how Year Zero ends, with Vlad Dracula conceding to bloodlust and becoming the man (monster?) that we are familiar with. Disappointment greets, when the tale untold gives few reasons to justify its telling. Another complex character gets rewritten into a worn hero’s journey, as Classic Monsters continue to abandon their literary folklore.
Vlad the Impaler is now Vlad the Fatherly Figure, drained of all personality bestowed by both history and Bram Stoker. Little do we learn of him, except for his inhuman strengths and weakness for silver. Instead of an often cruel ruler or eventual bloodsucker, we end up with a kindly and brooding tragic figure, who badly needs a few lessons in fun from Blade.
Similarly, his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) exists solely to motivate his vengeance, while Mehmed is reduced to a villainous caricature and an over-the-top deliverer of unprovoked taunts. Rather than attempting to build on the emotional front or the intrigue of humanity, the film shows excessive interest in the art of digital rendering.
If nothing else, Dracula Untold manages to find a little success in distinct visuals, where visible efforts sink into sleek and mildly entertaining fight choreography. But the absence of any suspense begins to dull the senses. In the strikingly bloodless battles, we watch one man single-handedly take down troops with no discernible retaliation. Superior sequences are aplenty, given the inundated superhero genre and well, Frank Miller.
So there goes another attempt to revive interest in Universal’s pursuit of a Monster Mash cinematic universe. Thankfully, there are better alternatives to this uninspired fantasy-action trend. Give this a miss in favour of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. Playing up thoughtful struggles between human nature and indomitable monstrosity, the exceptional shared universe of beloved characters will no doubt be a greater source of satisfaction.