Movie Review: DRACULA UNTOLD (2014) – An Origin Story That Tries Too Hard
Origin stories are often the template for film adaptations, as they provide a cohesive beginning and end to any well known and established fictional character. While there have been many films based on the enigmatic Dracula, and even more novels on the character, he hasn’t had a properly envisioned origin story.
Feature film director Gary Shore sought to remedy that in his ‘Dracula Untold’, which was also said to have been first step in a monsters’ shared universe, akin to monster mash up movies from way back when. Read on for my spoiler-free Movie Review of ‘Dracula Untold’.
A former child slave, trained to kill as easily as he draws breath, has grown to become leader of his people through a shaky truce with his slave lords. The man known as Vlad (Luke Evans) is a ruler willing to do anything for his people. When confronted with having to give up his own son and the sons of his kingdom to the very same people who enslaved him, Vlad rebels, incurring the wrath of another kingdom with the resources to squash his people like a bug. Seeking a way out, Vlad makes a deal with a devil, risking permanently becoming a creature of the night, in order to save his kingdom.
‘Dracula Untold’ is simply great. The movie adds much needed emotional depth to the already existing story of Dracula, and I say this without intimate knowledge about the novelized Dracula stories, but more the way the character has always been treated on screen. The opening sets up an emotional arc for the character that is split open in the latter half of the film, giving his actions the air of desparation that led to (Spiler Alert) Vlad eventually becoming Dracula.
While the character has always been seen as an evil and scheming one, ‘Dracula Untold‘ provides a backstory that almost changes the character into a reluctant anti-hero. The ending of the movie reminds me of ‘The Highlander’ franchise, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
The performances here are nothing noteworthy, except for maybe Luke Evans. Always supporting actor in movies like ‘Fast & Furious 6’, Evans gets to carry a movie on his own, and he does a decent enough job. The Brit actor’s trademark quiver-face (a blend of puppy dog eyes and trembling of his chiseled facial features) gives Vlad an air of sympathy in the 2nd act, making his eventual transformation more tragic than evil.
The one complaint I would have with ‘Dracula Untold‘, is that despite being touted as an origin story, the movie introduces a character, which is just accepted as being part of the story, with just an initial blurb by a monk, as exposition. The film is supposed to be about how Vlad becomes Dracula, but Charles Dance (‘Game Of Thrones’) appears as an older Vampire, responsible for Vlad’s transformation. The story doesn’t explain how Vampires came to be, but rather just posits that they do, evident by Dance’s character being trapped in a cave by a Vampire before him.
Other than that, the movie is pretty solid. While there are times it tries too hard to be ‘epic’ or too much like a supposedly legendary story, with musical flourishes and a little too much ‘Braveheart‘-like sequences, ‘Dracula Untold’ works as a whole due to Evans’ performance and a story that makes us care for the main character. Throwing in a cute helpless child doesn’t doesn’t hurt either to invoke audience emotions. [ Possible Spoilers below! ]
‘Dracula Untold’ is one of those rare movies, where the possibilities of where future films in the franchise may go, are infinitely more exciting than what the original story attempted to do. With the final scene setting up a story that continues on, I’m reminded more and more of ‘The Highlander’ franchise, and that’s just exciting!
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Would you be down for a shared Monsters’ Universe with Dracula in the lead?
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