Saturday, March 21, 2015

Dracula Untold (2014)

Director: Gary Shore
Notable Cast: Luke Evans, Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper, Art Parkinson, Charles Dance

When a company like Universal announces they want to do a sort of ‘cinematic universe’ featuring all of their classic horror monsters, they have our attention. As franchise whores, it’s easy for Blood Brothers to support this kind of ideology no matter how terrible it might seem on the onset. For their kick off flick, the rebooted mythology of perhaps their most iconic “villain” in Dracula Untold, Universal seem intent on resetting the ground work and building from scratch. Luckily for those of us versed in the world of Universal Monsters, Dracula Untold takes a rather new approach to the monster of lore and finds a rather fun and punchy way to tell us a ‘new’ story.

For Vlad (Evans), his rise to being the king of Transylvania was a hard one. Bred to be vigilant and fierce soldier, his status as a warrior for the Turks created legends around him. Yet, he rules over his lands and people in relative peace, taking a thoughtful and humanitarian approach. When the Turks threaten him to force 1,000 young men to fight in their armies, he approaches a mysterious monster in the mountains to gain the power needed to fight a war he never wanted.

March vamps, march!
While film and television watchers have seen something like ten billion versions of the Prince of Bats, Dracula Untold does attempt something a bit refreshing with his tale. Sure we’ve seen anti-heroic Draculas before, family oriented Draculas before, and supernatural monster versions of Draculas before, but Untold unfolds all of that into an almost fictionalized medieval account of his life. The blending of swords and armor (ala Lord of the Rings style in many ways), some tongue-in-cheek action set pieces, and just a hint of horror makes Dracula Untold a genre bending affair that certainly appealed to me as entertainment. The action is a bit of style over substance overall with plenty of slow motion, CGI, and whipping camera shots, but the film owns its action with relative ease. Call me silly for enjoying it, but having Dracula slaughter a 1,000 man army with his bare hands and then walk back to his village spouting “negotiations failed” fed into my love of the ridiculous and in that way Untold most certainly entertains. It’s out there, but dammit, it’s fun.

When the film attempts to be more serious is where it tends to show its shaky foundations. The family elements are supported nicely enough to give the viewer an indication on where the film might be headed, but a lot of the themes about higher moral ground and teaching his son to be a thoughtful ruler are brushed over for the same entertaining action I mentioned previously. The film under uses it’s villains and lacks the punch to thoroughly examine his furthering descent into darkness as the film plays on – leaving a lot of intriguing elements like his immunity to religious artifacts or why his own people attempt to burn him at the beginning of the third act without a lot of emotional depth.

Yet, throughout the film’s attempts at creating its own universe of medieval warfare and supernatural ‘bat slams,’ the best part arrives at the mythology of the vampire and Dracula’s – and here comes the title – untold relationship with it. Played with divine and sinister delight by Charles Dance, there are hints and horrors that are touched on with some cleverly worded dialogue and an epilogue in modern times that screams to be built on. So many questions are left hanging by the finale and the build there, that by the time the credits were rolling, Dracula Untold felt more like a prequel to a film we have yet to see. As intriguing as that is as a cliffhanger, it’s also a bit disappointing that the film doesn’t quite stand on its own as well as it could have.

Rough morning look.
In the end though, the massive action set pieces, a dark performance from Luke Evans, and the fun to be had in Dracula Untold washes over a lot of the potential depth that the script was missing out on. As entertainment, the film flies on bat wings much higher than I expected. As a solid piece of film, it tends to disappoint a little – but given that it’s the start of something much bigger, one can forgive some of the little things that (hopefully) will be used later.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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