Review: Dracula Untold
PLOT: A Transylvanian prince (Luke Evans) makes a dark pact with an centuries-old vampire (Charles Dance) in order to save his family and kingdom from a Turkish tyrant (Dominic Cooper). For three days, he'll possess near-limitless power, but if he submits to his thirst he'll be doomed to walk the earth for eternity as a vampire
REVIEW: Imagine the first five minutes of BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA stretched to feature-length. In a nutshell, that's DRACULA UNTOLD. As is the trend in most modern retellings of Dracula, the vamp is re-imagined as an anti-hero, but DRACULA UNTOLD goes even further, transforming him into a full-on superhero. Here, Vlad the Impaler is a former soldier-turned-prince, who's forced to accept the vampire's curse in order to keep his young son (and a thousand other Transylvanian boys) from being conscripted into the Turkish sultan's army. Even once he becomes a vampire, Luke Evans' brooding hero never even comes close to being the once-scary figure we know from literature and movies.
While the buzz on this re-imagining has been pretty toxic, as far as these things go DRACULA UNTOLD isn't that bad. Running a scant eighty-or-so minutes, this is basically just a bunch of action scenes strung together, but it's still schlocky fun in the same way the first two UNDERWORLD movies were. While this is very low-rent for a movie produced by Legendary Pictures (the first in their new deal with Universal), it's relatively painless, thanks mostly to the fast pace.
While not much more than a B-movie with a budget, this gets by mostly thanks to a charismatic performance by an appropriately brooding Luke Evans. Jacked to the point that he has a ten-pack rather than a six-pack, Evans has done a lot of these fantasy movies, and he suits them. While there's certainly not much levity to his brooding Vlad (the movie has no comic relief whatsoever), Evans looks cool in his red armor (taken right out of Francis Ford Coppola's movie) and is a decent action hero. Sarah Gadon also makes for a fresh-faced love interest, with this being a far cry from her work with David Cronenberg or in Denis Villeneuve's ENEMY. The score by Ramin Djawadi is also pretty decent, although it sounds like just about every other action score out there.
One thing that doesn't especially work in DRACULA UNTOLD's favour is the direction. This is Gary Shore's first feature, and it's pretty by-the-numbers although who knows how much of this is his fault (the running time suggests lots of post-production tinkering) . While the effect of turning Vlad into a horde of bats looks cool, otherwise there's not much that distinguishes it visually, other than a couple of goofy bits, such as a battle being reflected in a sword. The action scenes (of which there are a lot) are virtually indistinguishable from each other, with tons of quick cutting making mincemeat out of the carnage (this is strictly PG-13). The only one that stands out even slightly is the final showdown with Dominic Cooper (who seems to be channeling his Uday Hussein from THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE) where they fight on top of thousands of silver coins (which vampires hate natch).
While it's not great, DRACULA UNTOLD is OK and an agreeable enough time filler. The new (tacked-on) ending seems to promise a whole slew of new Universal monster movies (which is actually a decent idea), and while it remains to be seen if the box office will merit it, I wouldn't mind seeing Evans take up the part again. But next time, let's hope for a stronger overall vision on the part of the filmmakers. The franchise has potential but this doesn't quite live up to it.
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