There’s isn’t much left unwritten when it comes to Dracula, leaving the producers of Dracula Untold with a challenge to revive the fanged character for a new franchise.
Director Gary Shore takes the blockbuster route, transforming the saga into a CGI-heavy war film with a dusting of tragedy. It’s not without its charms, though critical miscasting in the lead roles does more damage than sunlight and silver combined.
Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Miscasting does more damage than sunlight and silver combined.
A terror on the battlefield, Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans) has elected to calm his evil soul, returning to his kingdom to rule with wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and his beloved son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson).
Intent on conquering Vlad’s Transylvanian homeland is Turkish warlord Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), with plans to use his enormous army to destroy everything in their path, claiming Ingeras as a prize.
Unwilling to bow down to Mehmed’s demands, Vlad lashes out at his enemy, retreating to the Broken Tooth Mountains to interact with the Master Vampire (Charles Dance), a fiendish being waiting for someone to sample his blood and break a longstanding curse.
Exchanging his humanity for power, Vlad becomes Dracula, using bats and blood to wage war with Mehmed, striving to protect Transylvania from its darkest hour.
Dracula Untold has little in common with its Bram Stoker origins. Making his directorial debut, Shore creates a world of heroes and villains, with the screenplay (credited to Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless) erasing Dracula’s moral ambiguity to imagine him as a hero. Vlad the Impaler’s backstory remains, but any thoughts of mass-murder are downplayed.
Shore isn’t a promising filmmaker, but he has a few ideas that work. Dracula Untold is largely devoid of horror, yet the introduction of Master Vampire is good for some chills.
The war sequences are the highlight of the picture, especially when Dracula fully acquires his special sonar vision and control of the local bat population, using them as an extension of his fists, while gifting Shore an opportunity to use CGI for a good cause, instead of just mindlessly dabbing it everywhere because makeup and set construction take too long.
The script attempts to ground Dracula’s quest in a sense of duty and enduring love, but Evans isn’t capable of making his emotions available to the audience. He internalizes everything, making Dracula more of a passive observer to the violence around him, and Evans’ chemistry with Gadon isn’t combustible, robbing the film of heat.
Worse is Cooper, who’s all wrong for Mehmed, unable to sell himself as a Turkish threat, with his wobbly accent and trendy haircut. Dracula Untold is missing a viable antagonist. I suppose that’s why there are gigantic swirling bat attacks—to distract from the fact that there’s no suspense in the movie. Dracula isn’t even an enemy to himself.
As PG-13 distractions go, one could do worse, but it’s a loud, busy picture with a few amazing visual accomplishments, working to find a fresh angle to help reintroduce the character to a new generation while tempting longstanding admirers back into the theater.
It doesn’t work as an epic, but the eye candy is sweet enough, offering something to look at while the actors sleepwalk through their roles and Shore dreams up new ways to overdose on CGI.