Main cast: Luke Evans (Vlad III Țepeș), Sarah Gadon (Mirena), Dominic Cooper (Sultan Mehmed II), Art Parkinson (Ingeras), and Charles Dance (Caligula)
Director: Gary Shore
Hot in the heels of all those “let’s make popular villains sympathetic and what not” movies like Maleficent and Frozen is Dracula Untold. The whole concept is odd, if you ask me, since the appeal of the original Dracula is that he is a purely evil yet magnetic personality. Turning him into a wuss is something that has already been done before in countless vampire romances, so this movie isn’t breaking any new grounds here. It does make the poor fellow come off like a whipped dog, though.
Vlad was taken from his parents as a boy to become a political hostage to the Sultan of Turkey. He was trained to become an emotionless killer, eventually gaining the “Impaler” moniker for his tendency to decorate the neighborhood with corpses of his victims stuffed on pikes. Eventually, he repented, fell in love with Mirena, and ended up a nominal ruler of his own land, Transylvania. He still pays tribute to the Sultan, and when the movie opens, the Sultan demands 1,000 young boys to be drafted into the Turkish army. Remembering his own “drafting” and in light of his wife’s insistence that he promised – promised! – her that their son Ingeras would never face the same fate, he is at loss as to how to get out of this demand without bringing the mighty Turkish army at his doorstep.
Meanwhile, he and his men stumbled upon a cave, which the vampire Caligula has made his home. Caligula is cursed with vampirism as a result of a bargain he made with demons for power, and Vlad decides that he needs this power to protect his family and his power. Caligula points out that Vlad would become a monster like he, but perhaps, if Vlad could avoid succumbing to the thirst for human blood in three days, he would revert to normal. Vlad is confident that he can last three days, so he accepts the power. Naturally, fate seems to conspire against him.
Dracula Untold is Gary Shore’s first directorial effort, and it shows. While the movie is well paced, scenes often feel staged and stilted, as if Mr Shore has seen this great movie and wants a particular scene to be just like this scene or that scene, but his inexperience gives the movie a “try too hard” feel at the end of the day. Much of the movie feels like an uninspired homage to everything from Underworld to The Crow to what else.
The cast is mostly adequate in their roles, although I’ve no idea why they have to pick one of the most annoying child actors ever to play an already obnoxious kid-in-distress character. Still, Luke Evans obligingly offers some skin for the enjoyment of folks who like to look at cute guys. The script, however, feels like some kind of “men, it’s time to reclaim your testicles” propaganda, because everything that goes wrong in this movie happens due to him being too lenient with the people around him.
For a Prince, supposedly with a fearsome reputation, Vlad lets everyone, from his wife to his minions, talk over him and even make decisions for him. He’s a prince, so by right his duty is to his people, even if it means sacrificing his son for peace. But no, he lets his wife scream and shriek at him into going against the Sultan, thus damning other folks into dying in the resulting war. The people he rules over are as dumb as hell – when they discover that he’s a vampire on the eve of the Turkish army’s assault on their refuge, they decide to kill Vlad, the only one protecting their useless asses so far. Seriously, people? I end up feeling so sorry for Vlad, because his wife is a useless twit who uses his affection for her to blackmail him into jeopardizing everything and even insisting that he damns himself forever to save their son, and his people are all an ungrateful burden that should just die in a bonfire.
If Vlad had been a true macho man who can put his stupid woman in line instead of letting her force him into doing disastrously stupid things, if he had gladly executed a few idiots as an example to keep the other idiots suitably cowed, if he had torched a few monasteries to show those idiot monks who the true boss is, this movie would not need to happen because Vlad would be the ultimate bad ass. Instead, the guy tries so hard to make everyone happy, and this movie is the result. How sad.