Does this re-imagining of cinema's favourite fanged antagonist bring back life to an undead franchise?
With countless variations to the character's portrayal across the history of cinema, Bram Stoker's Dracula has become an icon of both movies and literature. No surprise then, fast forward to the 21st Century and Universal Studios are as keen as ever to reboot all of their classic monster movies for modern audiences, starting off with the bloodsucker in question. However, Dracula Untold fails to rise above into originality and instead follows formulas we've all become familiar with, whether through set design or themes, leading to what culminates into a film that is less Christopher Lee, more Lord of the Rings.
Luke Evans plays our hero, Vladimir 'The Impaler' Tepes, current ruler of Transylvania under threat from Dominic Cooper's Turkish Sultan Mehmed II, who requests 1000 young boys join his army or face inevitable war. Cue 'Vlad' striking a deal with Charles Dance's ancient vampire (a scene filled with cheesy dialogue and homo-erotic undertones), allowing him to become a sharp-toothed killing machine for three days in order to defeat Mehmed's army. The convoluted catch? Should he drink human blood within this time, he remains a vampire for eternity; which ultimately leaves the audience scratching their heads as to how this would be a bad thing, living forever with god-like powers and all, and where Mr. Exposition pulled all these rules from in the first place.
The film confusingly attempts to portray Vlad as both intimidating and sympathetic; he's a family man, doing anything to protect his son and wife Mirena (played oh-so-blandly by oh-so-stunning Sarah Gadon), yet also shows no remorse when taking out his enemies in the most grotesque PG-13 fashion. Taking into account that Stoker's immortal creation took inspiration from the barbaric king, and the real life ruler was admired by his people despite what history textbooks tell you, it's an interpretation that looks good on paper, but sadly ends up depicting the character as your typical period drama war hero. Despite this, Evans still manages to give a convincing performance as your everyday action lead, and outperforms the entirety of the supporting cast - Cooper's villain is snore inducing, Gadon as stated previously is unoriginally loving and naive, and the few key characters we're supposed to root for have so little development, it's impossible to feel empathy when they're taken out of the picture. The only acception here is Dance's vampire, who's camp performance paired with over-the-top dialogue is surely giggle worthy.
In addition, it's disappointing that the film is your stereotypical historical war epic, with a plethora of action sequences and a surprisingly small amount of gore and horror elements; a fact that many die-hard Drac fans will disapprove of. It certainly doesn't warrant it's 15 age rating here in the UK, especially considering that the character had so much more potential in exploring depictions of sexual predators (teased at in one scene to no avail) and the psychological torment of being this immortal creature. Alas, instead we have to sit through clichéd romantic speeches and fight scenes so fastly edited together that it gives you little time to admire the decent costumes and effects; which although appear very cheap at times, are a nevertheless interesting spectacle to look at - I haven't had this much fun watching flying rodents kick ass since Batman Begins.
Perhaps the most bizarre of the film's nonsensical elements is the cinematography from John Schwartzman, who makes almost every fight scene like a modern Michael Bay flick (no surprise then that the two have previously worked together). This can range from random cuts to extreme close ups of objects that later come in to play as a form of half-arsed foreshadowing, to a baffling view of one battle via the reflection of a sword. Again, sounds good on paper, but in practice is cringeworthy and showcases the film's try-hard tone. Speaking of which, Schwartzman's landscape shots are as unoriginal as the rest of the film's premise; the overuse of CGI in the background and in particular the shots of the Turkish Army approaching would make Hobbits across the globe cry foul play. The only thing perhaps more frustrating is the film's ridiculous twist ending that screams sequel material - and trust me when I say you really won't see it coming.
Overall though, Dracula Untold is not without merit. Despite the annoying use of modern dialogue (We're pretty sure they wouldn't ask if you were 'OK' in the 15th century) and lines more cheesy than a Margherita, the action sequences are fun to watch and are sure to make you leave the theatre with an empty popcorn bucket in hand. The sets, though again predominantly taking heavy liberties from J.R. Tolkien's iconic work, are also nice to look at, featuring some breathtaking shots of the forest and mountains. It's the kind of film you'd enjoy renting on DVD when you don't feel like watching (you guessed it) another damn Hobbit movie.
In conclusion then, Dracula Untold offers us a plot that is unique in premise but not in execution. It's practically the epitome of unoriginality at its finest, yet the over-the-top performances and surprisingly unexpected twists in the story prevent the film from completely draining the life from you; but if Twilight isn't your type of vampire flick, then the film certainly lacks the sharp edge you're looking for to bite down deep in your interest.