Dir: Gary Shore
Starring: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Art Parkinson, Dominic Cooper and Charles Dance
Run-Time: 92 Mins
This is the story all about how Prince Dracula’s life got flip-turned upside down and it’d like to take 92 minutes, sit right there, it’ll tell you how he came to the prince of the underworld.
Dracula (Evans)is the benevolent prince of Transyvania when Mehmed II (Cooper) of Turkey, a man with whom he was raised as a brother turns on him for no real reason at all (the first of many examples of characters acting with no motivations whatsoever) and declares war. With no army to speak of, Dracula must either surrender his son (Parkinson) to Mehmed or face certain death. Unless he can find some other way to win…
Hearing, and accepting straight away, a legend about a chap who summoned a demon to gain access to its powers, he heads off to a cave to meet the man in question, Charles Dance. The demon tricked old Tywin Lannister and has kept him imprisoned in this cave for centuries. He is prepared to make a deal: He’ll give Dracula his powers for three days, after which he will return to normal. However, his thirst for human blood will be insatiable, and if he consumes even a single drop he’ll be transformed for ever. It’ll also break the seal of the spell which has trapped Dance in the cave, and he’ll be free to return to Kings Landing, or wherever else he wants to go.
Even with this slightly contrived set-up, there’s a few potentially interesting dramatic hooks for Dracula Untold to play with. Will we see a man wrestling with his own urges: a drug-addict desperately trying to go cold turkey? Or a man totally overwhelmed by his incomprehensible new powers? Will it be a morality play on the ideals of right and wrong, presenting a complex character portrait of a good man prepared to turn to the dark to save his people?
Sadly, Dracula Untold steadfastly refuses to grab any such hook and thus jettisons any dramatic weight it might have had. There is no learning curve – Dracula gains instant mastery of his new found powers; and as for a junkie craving a fix; outside of jumping out of bed with his wife when he notices her veins pulsing in her neck and then sweating a lot afterwards, that’s about it. He does knock a cup of blood out of the hand of a mysterious person who swears fealty to him for no specified reason, but this willing slave vanishes again, only to appear at the end for a Deus-Ex Machina.
There are some nice effects – a vampire left out on a stake to burn in the sunlight is a treat – and Luke Evans is a good fit for the broody prince. He adds more than just a stoic delivery, bringing charisma and presence to what could have been a bland, starched role.
Despite Dominic Cooper’s best Eastern-European accent his villain has a less developed character and understandable motivations than my lunchtime sandwich did, and this is indicative of the characterisation throughout. “Remember what I’ve always told you,’ one character asks of Dracula at the end – being as the interrogator has barely had two lines all film, rather than this being a case of well-crafted foreshadowing, it’s an example of a script that makes no effort to craft, shape and develop characters whatsoever.
The real shame is that Dracula Untold contains a few golden nuggets of ideas, only nobody could be bothered to expand around them. The final fight, a sword duel between Dracula and Mehmed is based on a good idea – Mehmed forces the fight to take place in a confined room filled with silver coins to even the odds – but it begs the question, if on several occasions we’ve seen Dracula turn into a colony of bats and rip through entire armies with ease, why does he even allow Mehmed to hand him a sword and initiate a duel in the first place?
This is followed up by a twist that makes little sense with characters that have enjoyed almost zero screen-time, the resolution to which makes the actions of Dracula a minute or so before totally absurd (a case of if he could just do that, why didn’t he?)
If this is intended to be a prequel to the classic Victorian Dracula story, than the final coda set in the modern day makes no sense; if the intention is to make a sequel by teleporting the Dracula story to the modern times, then it requires much more effort.
The Verdict: Some genuinely good ideas for a Dracula prequel hamstrung from the start by a truly lazy script that adds no flesh and blood to characters, refuses to get its claws into any meaty hooks and leaves many plot holes, logic gaps and nonsensical twists that don’t shock, they simply add to the runtime. Luke Evans is game (as is Charles Dance in his very limited screen-time) and deserved a lot, lot letter.