It is my understanding that Dracula Untold is the first in a series of classic monster movie reboots. Presumably, this will be followed by an updated take on The Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy…etc. Then I imagine there are plans to get the whole gang together for some kind of Monster Mash a la The Avengers, which sounds pretty neat to me as long as they intend to reboot Abbot & Costello as well. Also, I swear that if they continue to short change The Creature from the Black Lagoon, then I refuse to care about the entire endeavor, but that’s just me. Anyway, all of this will likely become moot if Dracula Untold fails to get this venture off the ground. Honestly, everybody knows Dracula is the Tony Stark of the classic movie monster set, after all.
Not exactly an accurate history lesson, Dracula Untold tells the story of Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), plucked from his family by the Turks as a mere child and trained in the art of war. After becoming one of the most brutal and feared warriors in all of the land, Vlad is finally allowed to return to his home of Transylvania, where he rules in peace for ten years before the Sultan comes calling for 1,000 more boys to fill the ranks of his armies, as well as Vlad’s only son. Having promised his queen, the beautiful Mirena (Sarah Gadon), that he would never let their son face the same fate that he did as a boy, Vlad seeks out help from the accursed inhabitant of Broken Tooth Mountain in order to attain the strength he needs to defeat the Turks on the battlefield. But at what cost?
Much of Dracula Untold is, unsurprisingly, shot in the dreary dark, but there are enough colorful flourishes so as not to suck the joy out of the action on the screen. Unfortunately, the script does not fare quite so well. The dialog is flat and often silly, leaving many of the actors fighting to find an emotional center to their characters. Gadon emotes like crazy, and you have to give her points for trying to give weight to her lines; she’s the only one here who seems to actually care what’s going on, but the other supporting actors are left twisting in the wind. Evans is an interesting case. I’ve seen him play a total sociopath in a straight-to-video torture-porn romp and I’ve seen him play Bard in The Hobbit Trilogy and I can’t tell the difference between the two characters beyond the accents he used. This role is played much the same, but here’s the thing. It works. Evans has brooding down on a level that would make 90’s Ethan Hawke proud, and those are the roles he chooses to play. It works every time. Pair him with Charles Dance as a tortured soul who may be Vlad’s only hope and no amount of bad dialog is going to stand in the way of some compelling theatre. Dance, thanks largely to his role as Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones, has made himself the go-to casting call for weathered English menace in film today, much to the chagrin of Bill Nighy, I presume.
I suppose you could nitpick this film to death about poor dialog, questionable character motivation and jumpy, scattered action. One could mention that some of the stylistic choices are decidedly juvenile and there are no less than three close-up shots of different spiders in the first 30 minutes of the film! Probably because spiders are ultra-predators that draw a very obvious parallel to vampires, but maybe just because they’re awesome and I draw them on my notebook cover all the time. I could even point out that this film is awfully PG-13 for the source material, but hey, you’re not going to make that Marvel Universe money on a hard ‘R.’
In the end, though, I don’t want to nitpick this film. It’s kind of fun, and it’s not going out of its way to be anything beyond its immediate grasp. Dracula Untold is a Dracula origin Story with enough twists to the original works of Bram Stoker to be mostly its own telling. Considering how many times the legend of Dracula has been beaten up by Hollywood, this is at least a very entertaining take that left me interested in seeing where the franchise goes from here. At a crisp 90 minutes, you could do much worse than to spend an evening enjoying this high-octane, entertaining new account of Dracula. This is the season after all.