Luke Evans (Fast & Furious 6, Immortals) stars in Dracula Untold, the origin story of the man who became Dracula. Gary Shore directs and Michael De Luca produces the epic action-adventure that co-stars Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, and Diarmaid Murtagh.
Call it the latest Hollywood trend: take a character known for villainy, give them a tragic backstory that makes them an antihero standing up to a true villain, and boom – you have the newest blockbuster. That’s what Universal does with Dracula Untold, allegedly the first part of a Marvel-style cinematic universe for Universal’s classic monsters.
Why Universal would lead with Dracula, out of the characters that make up their collection of monsters, is debatable. Since every major studio is playing catch-up with Marvel at this point, maybe some executive thought they should also jump on the (now waning) vampire wagon simultaneously. Whatever the reason, this is not the Dracula people know and love (or fear).
For starters, this Dracula origin story mixes in the story of Vlad the Impaler, Bram Stoker’s real-life inspiration for Dracula, by making Vlad the man who ultimately becomes Dracula. The reason for his turn? It’s a last-ditch effort to save his son and the other boys under his protection from becoming child soldiers for the Sultan, which Vlad himself was subjected to by his father at his son’s age. The deal he strikes with a vampire: become a vampire for three days, and as long as he doesn’t consume blood, he will revert to his human state. If he drinks blood, he’ll remain a vampire. Guess which way this goes.
In order to make a successful franchise (and there’s no doubt that Universal wants this to be a franchise of some sort), a PG-13 rating is essential. To get that rating, a lot of what makes Dracula an enduring figure has been drained – sexual tension is all but gone, blood is kept to a minimum, and that pure evil is replaced with a more ambiguous sense of right and wrong.
These things wouldn’t necessarily be issues if the movie itself was any good. Instead, Dracula Untold also drains any life out of almost every single element of the film. With the exception of Charles Dance as the vampire who turns Vlad, the cast just goes through the motions of the script. The script comes across like an amateur take on a Christopher Nolan film. The CGI attempts to create massive battle scenes come off as cheap. The film drags so much that it’s surprising it only lasts 92 minutes – it feels like it reaches the two hour mark, painfully.
The end of the film opens up a possibility for sequels to this film, and possibly an era for Universal’s monsters to come together Avengers-style. If the studio plans on keeping the films in this vein, though, the stories are best left untold.