“Sometimes the world doesn’t need a hero,” says Prince Vlad who later turns into Dracula (Luke Evans) in Dracula Untold. “It needs a monster.”
That sounds promising. An edgy, horrific creature is just what a story about the world’s most famous bloodsucker needs; instead it gets a romantically tragic antihero. Director Gary Shore and screenwriters Burk Sharpless and Matt Sazama have rebooted the Bram Stoker source material in the same mould as a comic-book origin story, and this doesn’t work.
To be fair, this isn’t Luke Evans fault. Ripped and ridiculously handsome, Evans is a great choice to play an anti-hero, except that Dracula isn’t meant to be some deeply misunderstood dude with superpowers. Dracula is an erotic, blood-sucking monster who feasts on vintages from the vein and inspires terror – but there’s precious little of that in the overly sanitised film.
The film even manages to cast in a sympathetic light that gruesome character called Vlad The Impaler – Stoker’s real-life inspiration for Dracula. The clash between the Romanian prince and the Ottoman Empire is the historical setting of Dracula Untold.
Young Vlad, forced into being a child soldier/slave in the Turkish army, unleashed a reign of terror by killing thousands of people – whom he then impaled on sticks, to inspire more terror. The Vlad we meet is the grown man returned to rule Transylvania as a model King, husband to Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and father to Ingeras (Art Parkinson). He is a sensitive man who believes in honour and parental responsibility – and there isn’t a pike or impaled head in sight.
Interrupting this idyll is the Sultan of Turkey, Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper), who demands that Vlad offer 1000 of his kingdom’s sons – including his own Ingeras – for forced service in the Turkish army.
What to do? What Vlad does is trot off to Broken Tooth Mountain to meet with its resident monster (Charles Dance). The ancient Vampire offers a deal: for three days Vlad will get a taste of the Vampire’s super powers to help him defeat the mighty Turks. However, if, in this period, he drinks human blood, then Vlad will remain a monster forever.
Vlad doesn’t turn a hair at this promise of eternal damnation and accepts the blood-pact. Has Faust taught us nothing?
Much chaotic killing, running and swirling into bats ensues. The last, because as a result of the newly ingested Vampire blood, Vlad can transform into a cloud of bats, fly, see in the dark, mentally control bats and so on.
Even within this construct used by Gary Shore, many themes combining humanity and horror could have been teased out to explain the creation of Dracula – whether the oldest story of the fall from grace of Lucifer, or the idea of monsters lurking within the best of us, as in Jekyll and Hyde, or even Anakin’s taste for power that leads to Darth Vader. We feel no anguish for Vlad’s imminent damnation, or fear at the carnage around him. For all the – disinfected – gore, Dracula Untold is surprisingly bloodless.
Genre: Action Fantasy
Director: Gary Shore
Cast: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Charles Dance
Storyline: Backstory of how the world’s most famous bloodsucker came to be
Bottomline: Dracula Unfanged