Imagine a story where you have an ill-fated protagonist that is willing to do anything to protect his loved ones. In doing so, that protagonist brings a curse upon himself where he has three days to resist his darkest temptations and fall fate to this terrible curse. Yet this heroic man slowly he falls into darkness and he only realizes it once it’s too late and becomes the person he tried to avoid. Now as this character’s turn is complete, the next chapter in the story we can see this character, that we loved in the first chapter, as an epitome of evil. Sounds good right? Now imagine that story only half baked, filled with shaky battle sequences and sometimes poor pacing, then you’ve got “Dracula Untold”.
“Dracula Untold” is by no means a terrible film, (like I once thought it would be) yet it’s not a great one either. When you’re watching this film you can’t help but feel the sense of great potential that this has. All the groundwork is there for not just a good film but a great film. For what it is, “Dracula Untold” is far from the worst on screen telling of the character and in some cases feels like a fresh interpretation of the character. “Dracula Untold” is an entertaining self serious romp that could have been so much more but a great lead performance from Luke Evans and a solid direction from director Gary Shore saves this mostly mixed bag of treats.
While trying to save his kingdom and his family, Vlad “the impaler” makes a deal with a dangerous supernatural being to give his power beyond the dreams of a mortal man. Yet with that power, he must resist temptation to drink the blood of others for three days if he is to return to a normal man. If he doesn’t, then he will be cursed with an undesirable faith forever.
Like I opened with, when you’re watching this you get the sense that this could have been so much more than it actually was. Yet doesn’t capitalize on it. The writers and filmmakers seem perfectly content with making a fantasy action-adventure film that is just there to entertain. On that basis, “Dracula Untold” succeeds. In director Gary Shore’s directorial debut, he does create a good tone and plenty of battle sequences to the big screen. Although many of the watered down PG-13 vampire battles do sometimes suffer from too much shaky cam, there are a few that deliver. When these sequences deliver, they will boast some smiles and enjoyment.
The problems with this entertaining adventure lies in its script. Put aside the fact that the script is underwritten, the film has some big pacing problems. The beginning rushes through its introduction and it mythology. It’s a mixed cadence that gets better as the film progresses but that doesn’t take away from a poorly structured first act.
An interesting approach the filmmaking took, is taking some real historical facts about the real Dracula (the man that Bram Stoker was partially inspired by to write his original horror novel) with many of the essential elements of the character intact (from the novel) or present by the end of the film’s story. Serving as Universal Studio’s almost “Dracula Begins” this was indeed an origin tale on how the man became the monster we all feared. This is more in the direction I thought Disney’s “Maleficent” should have gone Originally I thought this project was going to be a telling of the real Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) but instead is a nice mix of history and fiction. One day I would love to see an on screen telling of the real historical figure.
Getting someone to play the iconic role of Dracula is no easy task. When it’s been played by the likes of Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman, Christopher Lee, and even Al Lewis (okay very different type of Dracula), it’s important to get the proper actor to lead. Luke Evans is a rising star and even in the bad films he is in, like “The Three Musketeers” and “Immortals”, he is quite good in them. Evans was a big standout in the latest “Hobbit” film and brings out that talent over here with this production. He has got this sort of old school movie star quality that few really have any more (Chris Hemsworth is another one). Evans is able to bring pathos out of the audience while also making his darkness believable and ferocity scary. Evans has also got a vulnerability to him, and even charm and likeability. His performance really helps elevate the film. Hopefully he will stick with the role with future installments.
The movie does end setting up for a possible sequel (or potentially for the monster shared universe that Universal is resurrecting from the 1940s). Unlike “Maze Runner” the film doesn’t end like it’s desperate for a sequel . It’s actually an exciting ending one that opens up lot’s of possibilities that I look forward to seeing.