Dracula Untold – The Review
+ Great performances from Luke Evans and Charles Dance
+ A step in the right direction away from 'campy' vampires
+ Touching on some vampire myths which aren't usually seen on the modern screen
- Bat CGI
- Plot holes here and there
- Overall lack of suspence
If you’re expecting this review to start off with a vampire joke, you will be sorely disappointed. I will not sink to the depths of “This film sucked”, “Watching this film was like getting staked through the heart” or “Given a choice between watching this film again and being impaled, I’d take the latter”.
Although I had high hopes for Dracula Untold and for the most part felt like I’d been slapped in the face with the money I spent, there are some things which work fantastically. Charles Dance‘s (Game of Thrones) performance makes me afraid of dark caves and Faustian deals, Luke Evans (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) plays a pretty good Vlad and the representation of the creatures of the night give me hope for a post-Twilight world where vampires are genuinely frightening.
This is the overwhelmingly frustrating thing; this movie worked so well in some areas, but failed miserably in others.
I’m going to say it – Luke Evans works as Vlad. Whilst some people can say his range of acting just veers between snarling and looking grim in this film, I actually thought he pulled it off. His performance did the role well, and I did get the qualities they were pushing for in this film – that Vlad was just a man who did what he had to do in order to keep his family (and country) safe. A man who sells his soul and walks the thin borders of hell to keep the Turks from ravaging his lands.
The protagonist, Mehmed II, was meh. Okay, jokes aside, he literally serves as no more than a plot point – being the reason for Vlad to make the dark contract and become a vampire. Whilst Dominic Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger) does work the part, I kind of thought that it was the kind of role you could have any other actor play; it wasn’t the best of his career, nor was it the worst, it just didn’t really do much to stick out in my mind. He was little more than your typical, run-of-the-mill villain for the hero to best.
Charles Dance, who played the Master Vampire, was very, very good. He was menacing, he was unnatural, he was superior – in my opinion, although there were too few scenes of him, the minimalist coverage of this all-powerful creature made the character even more mysterious and intriguing. It could be argued that it is not Mehmed who is the main villain of this film, but this creature who made a Faustian deal with the protagonist, a man who is so sure that Vlad will break the contract, that he doesn’t have to do anything other than sit back and wait for the inevitable.
At first I severely hated the character of Mirena, Vlad’s wife, played by Sarah Gadon (Cosmopolis), she seemed to force Vlad to make all the wrong choices, and takes none of the blame. Looking back however, I find myself warming to her; when Dracula shows her he is a monster, she doesn’t turn away from him and even covered for him during the daytime which helps her character recover slightly in my eyes.
There are other characters, such as Vlad’s son, Vlad’s advisers, Mehmet’s generals…but none of them really make that big of an appearance or performance.
Alright, I’m just going to get this out of the way right now. An issue I had with the plot was that it reminded me so much of the video game Castlevania: Lords of Shadow to which it is somewhat inferior. With the game, Vlad’s transformation is a kind of plot twist, whereas here it is too predictable. I mean, for people who have any idea who Dracula is then the plot is not a “will he/won’t he” scenario, but a countdown.
The story is adequate, but there are times when the writing suffers from just plain stupidity. I won’t give specific examples to avoid spoilers but will give a keyword for a moment in the movie which just had me going “What? Why? How does this make sense? Who does this?”; ‘Blindfolds’.
I liked it, ‘kay?
These people did do their research. You have the run-of-the-mill powers that come with being a vampire, enhanced strength and aversion to daylight, and then you have the ones which haven’t really been touched by modern cinema – an aversion to silver, bat control and metamorphosis, which, I have to confess, I found cool as shit.
However, there are times when the writing seems a tad inconsistent. There is a fantastic sequence where Vlad is skirting around gaps in a tent to avoid crossing over chinks of light, which is what a creature of the night should be doing. However, in the previous scene when he was inside the structure he walked past slits in the castle wall like they were nothing. Additionally, silver’s effectiveness is variable throughout the film. At one point it seems to burn the skin, marking it horribly and then the next it seems more like an irritation, like he’d just brushed against a stinging nettle.
The film, rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of warfare, vampire attacks, disturbing images, and some sensuality) is surprisingly lacking in what I took to be a darker take on the whole origin of Dracula mythos. There are sword fights, but no blood. There is action, but a considerable amount is built up to then be done off-screen or via bad bat-CGI.
The costumes and art department, those guys and girls need to get more respect for the work they did. Most notably in the film, the Master Vampire’s cave is a great setting. The Master Vampire himself is an intimidating work of art and Dracula’s armour is badass.
The other thing to take away from this is that although this film didn’t exactly peak the interests of a critic, audiences still love it. So whilst people may still rip it to pieces and it may not be THE movie to see this Halloween, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go see it.
So ultimately, don’t go see this movie if you’re a stickler for facts. Don’t go and see this movie if you are looking for another interpretation of Bram Stoker’s work. Do go see it if you want to see some badass vampires wrecking shit, or if you ever wanted to imagine what Bram Stoker’s Dracula would be like if they tried to mash it together with 300.