The Marvel Cinematic Universe has set an unprecedented standard in the movie industry over the last seven or so years, and it has started to pay off in enormous ways. Fact is, Marvel is the single-largest franchise in the film industry right now by itself, and considering that the second-largest is about to be the triumphant return to form for the Star Wars franchise, you have to bet that Disney executives are always wearing a big smile on their faces. This has started a ripple effect with a lot of companies wanting to cash-in with a similar structure in mind. Universal Studios is rebooting their Monsters, and while not initially planned, the launchpad will evidently be this film, Dracula Untold.
When I first saw the trailers for the new film, I wasn’t necessarily excited, but I was interested. I could tell immediately that they were departing from a lot of what I had from the Dracula myths, and offering a more action-oriented approach. I was a little bothered, or at least somewhat disappointed, but I had an intrigue. Personally, I really enjoyed Bram Stoker’s book and I would have preferred a fresh-take on the concept. I’ve been wanting to see some of these monster characters return to form, and this might not be what I expected, but I was at least curious to see them. The reviews started up with a very negative response, and my interest lessened, a lot of it was because I was afraid that the title might end up being more comparable to something like I Frankenstein, but the box-office success basically paved the way to say that the modest universe would continue.
Dracula Untold is a 2014 American action epic directed by Gary Shore in his feature film debut and it was written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. Instead of taking elements from the novel inspiring it, the film instead re-imagines an origin story for Vlad the Impaler. In it, Dracula leads over Transylvania, until conflict with Turkish men arises putting his family and village in-danger. Dracula ascends to a vampire’s cave and is offered the temporary skills of a vampire. The film is about him conquering the Turkish empire, battling his thirst for blood, and him trying to protect his family. The film stars Luke Evans as the title character, and Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, and Charles Dance all appear in supporting roles.
After watching the film, I can honestly say that I am more optimistic about the shared Monster universe than I was heading into it. The film isn’t terrific, but I don’t believe the film is nearly as horrific as some might believe. In it, the film certainly departs from the elements that we have previously connected with Dracula, and for those reasons, it isn’t at all what horror purists may yearn for, but it does offer enticing visuals and a little bite. The storyline isn’t anything that we haven’t already seen before, and oftentimes, in-fact, it feels especially too conventional and formulaic to truly standout or astound. Dracula Untold follows the motions and frameworks to a tee, never diverting or stumbling from its path, but never excelling above or beyond simple decency. It’s as simple as saying that everything is fine about it, but that nothing about it is necessarily great.
The action-scenes and the special-effects are over-the-top and overbearing at times but they are pleasant on the eyes, and while they are likely one of the best factors for the film, diverting Dracula into an epic as such definitely leaves something to be desired. The conflict dealing with Dracula’s thirst for blood isn’t much of a conflict at all either, and in-fact, after some initial trouble, he is able to show the utmost restraint. Frankly, Luke Evans makes dealing with the thirst look easy. This isn’t to say that Luke Evans didn’t offer up an enjoyable performance as the lead-character, in-fact, if the special-effects are only one of the best things of this film, that’s only because Luke Evans is the single-most entertaining part of it all. His character has a certain likability, as well as a certain underlining amount of depth that I found myself waiting to see come up to the surface. It never really did, or at least not as much as I would have liked, but Luke Evans’ performance is one of the few highlights that Dracula Untold has.
The other actors don’t really cut it very much, and I found it remarkably difficult to care about any of them the way that I should have. The fact is, the film dealt with Dracula’s conflict, but everything else ending up as white noise which made the moments asking for emotion less impacting, which is a shame.
The biggest disappointment about Dracula Untold is not actually the film itself. Dracula Untold is a decent enough movie. If it were about a character I hadn’t heard of, a lot of complaints wouldn’t register as well. What’s disappointing about Dracula Untold is that they butchered the Dracula storyline and instead, they created a run-of-the-mill, and generic narrative that brings nostalgia for the Underworld franchise and not the subject-matter they’re actually meaning to reboot.
The reason I left the film with optimism though, is that I think, by the end of the film, with the origin out of the way, this iteration of Dracula might be able to have some life breathed into it with an eventual and inevitable follow-up.