Posted October 10, 2014 by Daniel Hodgson in
The one thing that a movie about vampires cannot be is toothless, especially if it’s about Dracula, or about someone calling himself Dracula.
The title Dracula Untold suggests an alternate telling of Bram Stoker’s tale, like Maleficent‘s spin on Sleeping Beauty, however, that is not the case. Dracula Untold is actually a gothic account of the life of Vlad the Impaler—the historical figure whom Dracula was named for. Why not call it Vlad the Impaler instead? Answer: “Dracula” has brand recognizability.
After a Turkish envoy demands 1000 boys from Prince Vlad’s kingdom—including his own son—to serve in the Turkish army, Vlad journeys to a cave in the mountains, where an ancient vampire (Charles Dance of Game of Thrones) dwells. Vlad offers to bear his curse, so he can use the vampire’s powers against Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) and his armies.
Vlad has the vampire’s powers for three days, after which he will regain his humanity—so long as he can resist the urge to drink human blood. He doesn’t tell his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) or his people about his Faustian bargain, and in that way, Dracula Untold resembles a Marvel-movie origin story: Vlad has a secret identity, as well as powers and weaknesses, and eventually, he dons a costume symbolic of his identity, Vlad, son of the Dragon.
Taken as a super-hero action movie, Dracula Untold suffers from faux- Paul Greengrass syndrome; the camera won’t stop shaking, the cuts are too quick, and you can’t quite tell what the hell is going on. It’s a shame, too, as the action has some interesting, cool concepts; Vlad can change into a swarm of bats to evade attacks, and quickly returns to human form to dispatch his foes, one after the other, by the hundreds. It’s the sort of thing that should be shot in slow-motion, rather than the shaky-cam quick-cut style that’s plagued cinema these last few years.
I was almost set to write a Rant about how popcorn movies like this are often too damn long, but Dracula Untold suffers from exactly the opposite problem; it’s too short by at least fifteen minutes. Consequently, several characters, such as the main villain and the damsel-in-distress, are atrociously underdeveloped; you neither hate Mehmed nor care what happens to Mirena. The story has structure, the plot races along briskly through its 92 minutes, yet it’s horribly predictable.
Dracula Untold sets out to tell a story about a monster, or at least an anti-hero fighting for our side (and notice an echo of The Dark Knight here), but it never sinks its teeth into the idea. Vlad is a soldier, fighting a war, yet even in his ends-justify-the-means philosophy, he never really goes too far. Again, like Maleficent, he’s just not bad enough. “Dracula” as a hero? C’mon, he’s so much more fun than that.
To its credit, the film has the fortitude to take an unpopular stance on a hot-button issue, namely drone-warfare, without saying so explicitly. Late in the film, Vlad commands a massive swarm of bats to strike a legion of Turks, attacking them remotely without endangering himself or his army. His own people condemn him, yet benefit from his protection. The film suggests that America, like Vlad, has lost its soul, yet remains the hero.