Dracula: vicious, blood-thirsty monster, or tragic romantic hero?
“Dracula Untold” takes us back to the time of Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), reigning prince at the Castle Dracula who earned his nickname by his feats in battle after being raised in the Turkish army.
In a cave in a nearby mountain range, something dark lurks that can dispatch an entire Turkish scouting party. When Turkish military leaders come to Vlad for his annual monetary tribute to the sultan, they also demand he give them 1,000 boys to be turned into soldiers, just as Vlad had been as a boy — including Vlad’s son (Art Parkinson). When he refuses, the sultan (Dominic Cooper) sends the Turkish army to make him comply.
With few options at his disposal, Vlad ventures into the cave, and asks the shadowy figure there (Charles Dance) for help. “Sometimes the world doesn’t need another hero. Sometimes what the world needs is a monster,” he says.
The creature — OK, the vampire — cuts him a deal: If Vlad drinks of its blood, for three days he will have superhuman strength, speed and healing ability, with only the minor side effects of an intense allergy to silver and sunlight and, oh, yeah, an insatiable thirst for human blood. If he gets through the three days without drinking someone else’s blood, he will return to normal, but if he gives into the thirst, he will be undead forever and the creature will no longer be magically bound to the cave.
Vlad, of course, agrees, and sets off to take down the entire army single-handedly. It’s kind of a bummer not being able to wear his swanky silver ring or sleep with his wife (Sarah Gadon) without wanting to suck her blood, but otherwise it seems like a pretty good system. The thirst increases, however, as do the sultan’s numbers, and he begins to wonder if he has enough time and control with his powers to keep his kingdom safe.
“Dracula Untold” is kind of like a historical adventure movie. Everyone on the good-guy side speaks with various English accents and everyone wears armor and carries swords. There is a hint of “Lord of the Rings” (that part in “Return of the King” when Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli enlist the army of the dead) and a dash of the sort of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” campiness that inevitably comes with any monster movie. And, actually, if it didn’t have the camp factor, you’d think something was missing — I think that’s what might have been wrong with “Godzilla” earlier this year. Well, among other things.
Much like “Maleficent,” “Dracula Untold” paints the legendary vampire as a misunderstood hero with a romantic side. Vlad faces the feared but mysterious figure in the cave with the intent of surrendering his life as he knows it in order to protect his family and kingdom. During battles, he fights ferociously and kills mercilessly, but afterwards regrets the lives he’s taken. And above all, he is devoted to his wife, for whom he makes his most difficult decisions.
There are quite a few plot holes here, some big enough to sail a monastery through, but “Dracula Untold,” while very much about life and death and undeath, doesn’t take itself serious enough for these to be grievous errors.
If this does well enough and Universal Pictures gets its way, “Dracula Untold” will be the first in a series of Marvel Universe-esque monster movies. Even this one ends in such a way that it feels like sort of a prequel rather than a stand-alone movie. But you know what? I’m OK with that. I’m sure any ensemble movie would be more “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” than “The Avengers,” but not everything has to be a spectacular multi-billion dollar sensation.
So, yes, “Dracula Untold” has its faults. Those tired of vampires being romantic figures will probably roll their eyes at this guy, too, but, then again, he doesn’t sparkle, so there’s that. And, though Vlad’s fate is always a little predictable, this movie is short and fast-paced enough to make it fun despite its problems.
Actually, this movie is genius: They made it just romantic enough to keep the “Twilight” crowd, but roughed it up with blood and claws for the anti-Twihards, and released it right before Halloween for anyone in the cracks looking for a slightly spooky flick to celebrate the holiday. Brilliant.
Time: 92 minutes