Who knew? Who knew that Count Dracula was, at one time, a pretty decent guy. A bit morose and damaged from a stint as a child soldier for a marauding Turk, but as an adult, a nobleman with a kind heart, a compassionate manner, and a devotion to his people. Yes, Prince Vlad was a good person, plagued by a kingdom filled with whiners, but still able to rise above the rabble to do what’s right to maintain his 15th century sovereignty.
Doesn’t quite jive with your memories of the “monster”, does it? That’s because Universal is being run by a bunch of jealous desk jockeys who’ve taken one look at what Disney and Marvel have created via their vast superhero universes and phases and have shouted strongly “Yes, please!” And why not? The House of Mouse and its billion dollar acquisition have seen their bottom line increase as many zeroes, if not more, based on such a plan. Besides, if they can make Maleficent a misunderstood moneymaker, why not the former Prince of Darkness?
Of course, we’re talking about creatures here, not comic book or cartoon icons, each with their own unique history and literary backstory. Well, not anymore. Money talks and original source material walks, meaning we’re getting this macabre mash-up, whether we like it or not. Indeed, hoping to one day bring everyone from their frightmare vaults, from Frankenstein to the Wolfman, the Mummy to… well, you get the idea, to the big screen ala the failed Van Helsing, Universal is now getting this wholly unnecessary ball rolling with Dracula Untold. Considering how crappy it is, such a rogue reunion may be decades off, if ever.
The biggest issue that anyone will have with this retelling of the Bram Stoker myth is how little it has to do with horror. This is more Game of Thrones than a trip to Transylvania, with HBO’s adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic loaded with a lot more blood and gore. And sex. And scandal. And intrigue. And drama. And overall entertainment value. Sure, if you forget for a moment that this is supposed to be the foundation for the world’s most infamous neckbiter, you may have a good time. But the minute you hear the name “Dracula”, you experience a kind of aesthetic whiplash, as if your rationale is ramrodded by realizing this is supposed to be about a grievous ghoul.
Vlad (Luke Evans, doing what he can with what’s he’s given) is determined to never repeat the mistakes his father made in allowing the Turk — a vague villainous threat that is never truly defined, even if it ends up being personified by Dominic Cooper’s “blink and you’ll miss him” Mehmed II — to take himself and many of Transylvania’s young men to fight for the enemy. So what happens almost immediately upon our introduction to this scenario? It happens again. The Turk wants another 1000 boys, including Vlad’s horribly fey son Ingeras (Art Parkinson). This makes Mrs. Prince (Sarah Gadon) livid, especially since her hubby promised it wouldn’t happen again.
After defying the edict, Vlad must find a way to protect his kingdom. Enter an odd hermit (Charles Dance) who looks like an aging rodent and promises a whole bunch of nifty powers if our hero simply drinks some of his blood from a human skull. There’s also a lot of meaningless mumbo jumbo about curses, freedom, slavery, etc. Apparently, Vlad will be stronger and quicker than 100 men for three days. He will be able to shapeshift into a collection of bats and be able to see through the eyes of the “children of the night”. All he has to do is avoid his horrid craving for human blood. Do so, and after 72 hours everything is back to normal. Succumb, and become a succubus… FOREVER!
In the end, all we get is a collection of CG battles, poorly executed and even more inadequately directed, all in the name of showing Vlad in pure avenging hero mode. As he breezes through the troops, going Matrix “Big Brawl” style on them, nary a drop of human claret is spilled, the better to maintain the PG-13 demo the designers of this mess are aiming for. Director Gary Shore got his start in commercials, but there is no ad agency slickness to what he achieves. Instead, he simply borrows from his betters, be they Zack Snyder (just call this 300 Nosferatus) or Francis Ford Coppola (who abandoned the whole pre-Victorian Vlad business before showcasing his own warped take on Stoker).
As for his actors, they are set adrift without anything significant or iconic to do. Evans is like Hamlet, so morose that you swear he needs an anti-depressant, not an infusion of ancient monster marrow. Even when he turns into a terror, he’s a weepy, wounded nightmare. Since he has to resist the desire to drink blood, we get none of the vein draining we expect from the genre, and as mentioned before, the grand scale slaughter we witness happens without a bit of the paranormal’s favorite potent potable. Like World War Z, one has to ask, “how can you have a vampire movie and not feature blood?” The answer, of course, is that this is NOT a vampire movie. It’s a mockery of one.
Originally, Alex Proyas of Dark City and I, Robot fame was charged with creating something called Dracula: Year Zero starring Sam Worthington. Universal balked when it saw the potential budget. Then they required reshoots on this fiasco once the company’s copycat of Kevin Feige came up with the “shared universe” idea. Apparently, that also required some massive re-edits. How else would you explain the absence of a character named Baba Yaga (played by Samantha Barks) who appears in the press materials, but not the movie itself? With an epilogue that’s laughable in a Fifty Shade of Stephanie Meyer kind of way and a real desire to distant itself from anything remotely related to its actual Victorian softcore origins, Dracula Untold is terrible. It should be subtitled Dracula Unnecessary.