Director: Gary Shore
Cast: Luke Evans, Dominic Cooper, Sarah Gadon, Charles Dance, Paul Kaye
Plot: When Vlad the Impaler (Evans) finds his peaceful kingdom threatened by the Turks, he turns to a fearsome creature to give him a curse powerful enough to defend his people.
Dracula Untold is a story about the lengths a man should go to protect his loved ones. Vlad the Impaler is already well aware of the importance of monstrosity, after giving himself a reputation for butchering his enemies, in order to scare off the next evil tribe to come along. When Dominic Cooper’s casual yet nasty Turk sultan comes to Transylvania in order to collect any child old enough to be used as a soldier, Vlad is forced to declare war on the Turks, despite only having a token amount of men to his name, his village mostly populated by villagers and monks. In order to save his people, Vlad turns to Broken Tooth Mountain, where he is aware of a creature trapped in the shadows, powerful enough to destroy his men at a whim. He offers himself to the creature, gifted three days worth of the powers of a Vampire. However, if he gives into the desire to drink blood before his three days are up, he will be trapped as Dracula for eternity. The movie debates if Vlad has gone too far to protect his kingdom, questioning whether he is the true villain of the piece. The fights are easy to Vlad, an unstoppable force on the battlefield, but his true test comes between the battles, where he cannot look at his doting wife without wanting to drink her blood or forced to hide his aversion to sunlight from his men.
Or that’s what the movie should have been about. There is some deliciously weighty material here, waiting to be explored. Evans is given the kind of role actors dream of getting their hands on; a cross between Superman and Macbeth, arguably literature’s greatest villain, before the monstrosity claimed him. However, director Gary Shore breezes over the tough questions, focusing on creating a fantasy action. We get scenes where Evans rushes into a gloomy forest, momentarily overcome by his thirst for blood, but we never connect with these scenes. We are told the weight of Vlad’s actions, rather than feeling the true horror of his transformation. Vlad’s final tactic at destroying the Turks is actually catastrophic in terms of what it could mean for the world, yet we don’t really feel that weight. You can see the beginnings of a good debate on the horizon, yet Shore never lets any of them play out, so we get an entertaining flick, content to be easy-going fun, but when there is so much material to be explored, it feels like a waste of story. In fact, it’s not just the debate, but the performances too. Evans must be frustrated that he is given this amazing character, but asked to play poster boy, rather than anti-hero. It hurts that his stint in the Hobbit trilogy had more depth and the characters criss cross too often to separate the two performances. The supporting cast get an even worse deal, never causing too much waves in the story. Gadon is annoyingly simpering and one-dimensional. Cooper’s villain is constantly in the distance, only really coming to play in a clever sword-fight in the end. His henchmen are even worse, hard to distinguish from each other and often killed off in the blink of an eye. Even Charles Dance is reduced to a glorified cameo, which is a shame, because his segments are easily the highlight of the film, a throwback to the classic Vampyre look, sunken and bat-like. The fight scenes only hide these shortcomings to a point. They are fun, but too stylised. It is hard to believe Vlad is taking on a whole army by himself, the battles directed with too many flashy shots. It feels more like a music video than a nail-biting skirmish. There’s enough here to recommend a Friday night fantasy film, but it always feels like Dracula Untold only went halfway with everything.
Final Verdict: There is a sense that Dracula Untold is half a film, its good ideas never allowed to reach their potential.