Muscular, and sporting tight leather pants, some chains, and an ornate cape, Vlad (Luke Evans) in Dracula Untold could be going to an S&M club. But he is, according to the voice over spoken by his son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson), “a fierce warrior that future armies would retreat from at the mention of his name.”
Vlad is a leader, and he protects his Transylvanian people from their rivals the Turks, led by his enemy the Sultan, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) who was once “like a brother” to Vlad. Mehmed wants 1,000 Transylvanian boys (as soldiers) and Vlad refuses to give in or give up his men. In fact, he decides to single-handedly defend his kingdom and protect his son by making a deal with the devil. Visiting a cave where a Master Vampire (Charles Dance) lives, Vlad agrees to drink the Vampire’s blood in exchange for superpowers that will last for three days–that is if Vlad can resist drinking human blood in that time. If he does succumb to thirst, however, Vlad will remain undead for a lifetime. And so, the Dracula legend begins.
Dracula Untold is impressively lensed with some fine CGI effects of Vlad’s skin peeling off when exposed to pure silver or sunlight, or when Vlad transforms into hundreds of bats. (Yes, one could say he’s the original Batman.) The battle sequences are edited a bit too quickly, and when Vlad decimates an army of 1,000 men by himself, the film does get a little ridiculous. But given the story’s emphasis on blood, it’s not a particularly gory affair. A scene of the Master Vampire extending his very long icky tongue out to lick some blood off Vlad’s freshly sliced neck is arguably more disgusting than the scenes that prove why Vlad is known as “the Impaler.”
Evans does a rather credible job showing Vlad’s emotional conflicts as he is tempted by destiny in the form of a throbbing vein in his porcelain-skinned wife Mirena’s (Sarah Gadon) neck. Vlad’s sense of sacrifice for the greater good is palpable, even if the outcome is a foregone conclusion.
Dominic Cooper, however, fares less well because his character is underwritten. Mehmed’s big scene–a showdown against Vlad on a silver floor–just feels perfunctory. Mehmed never quite proves himself to be a formidable adversary. He really should have taken lessons on how to be evil from the Master Vampire.
Yet the biggest flaw of Dracula Untold may be that it only barely scratches at the Bram Stoker story. There’s a strange scene involving a Renfield-like character that could have developed into something more (or have been cut entirely). In addition, a sequence in which Vlad is caught avoiding sunlight is confusing because he reacts to being exposed, but moments later, walks out of a burning house pretty much unscathed. However, such quibbles may be over-thinking for an undemanding popcorn flick like this.
Dracula Untold opens today in Philla area theaters.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.