It’s become a bit of a cliché for Dracula to be given a tragic back story, some personal anguish which drives him and somehow mitigates his bloodlust and monstrous acts. While “Dracula Untold” falls victim to this trope, it does it with a bit of style and visual flair.
When Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) tries to put his violent, impaling past behind him and rule peacefully, he is provoked into action by the unreasonable and aggressive demands of the Sultan (Dominic Cooper). In order to gain the strength to save his people, Vlad is forced to make an ill-omened deal with the Devil.
Luke Evans delivers the furrow-browed earnestness needed for this incarnation of Vlad, making him both brutal and sympathetic as he slips inexorably towards darkness. Sarah Gadon effortlessly channels “Krull”-era Lysette Anthony as Vlad’s wife Mirena and Art Parkinson manages to remain on the right side of annoying as Vlad’s young son. Dominic Cooper is a bit of a weird casting choice as Sultan Mehmed but his accent is good value for money. The film really kicks into high gear when a cadaverous Charles Dance enters the fray as the Master Vampire, lurking atop Broken Tooth Mountain. The scenes with Evans and Dance in the caves give the movie a transfusion of class and gravitas.
Prior to that, it’s all a bit ordinary medieval swords and armour but once the supernatural starts to play a role it really improves. There’s a great deal of Drac-man Begins in this vampiric origin tale, with Charles Dance acting as a sort of Ra’s Al Ghoul to teach Vlad the ways of the Chiroptera.
I went in expecting B-movie goodness and ended up getting somewhere around A- nearly greatness. Gruesome without being gory, at times it looks and feels like a mega-budget version of TV’s “Merlin”, there’s an economy to the storytelling. There aren’t many sidesteps or subplots and it’s a pretty linear fall from grace for good prince Vlad. Director Gary Shore brings plenty of visual flair to the film, although one scene is lifted almost wholesale from “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” but it has a handful of great ideas and looks fantastic. Its short running time keeps it from feeling truly epic, but it wisely sticks to what it knows it can do well and avoids overreaching on this first outing.
I say first outing, because it’s been confirmed this will be the foundation for Universal’s attempt at a shared cinematic universe, based on their roster of classic movie monsters. So expect Luke Evans’ Fang-favourite to show up in forthcoming Mummy, Frankenstein and Wolfman movies or perhaps lurking around a black lagoon. Personally I quite like the idea of Charles Dance popping up in each one, announcing he’s ‘putting together a team…’ At the very least I’m looking forward to seeing this Count face off against Van Helsing at some point.