9 October 2014
Review: DRACULA UNTOLD
Following Disney's character rehabilitation Maleficent earlier this year, they've taken a similar tack with the prince of darkness, with a fictionalised version of the historical basis for Bram Stoker's novel, Vlad the Impaler. Having impaled his way to peace-time ever since he was abducted by Turks and trained up a child warrior, Vlad decides to settle down in his kingdom of Transylvania with his wife and son. But when Turkish invaders threaten a similar fate for his boy, Vlad turns to a Faustian pact with a powerful evil in order to protect his people, and soon falls under the shadow of the vampire himself.
Like recent Hollywood takes on other played-out stories, such as Snow White or Sherlock Holmes, the big innovation here is to introduce more action into the story. Though the traditional horror elements are present and correct, there's also an enjoyable propensity for battles which match The Lord of the Rings in scale, if not in emotional investment. Director Gary Shore's first feature is most distinctive for the look of its battle scenes- we've mostly seen the slow motion pans through CGI battle environments in adverts, but it's a testament to how good it looks as an action film that I wasn't only thinking of this.
Max Schreck to Adam Sandler, with Christopher Lee and Gerard Butler dotted around in between. Luke Evans' portrayal isn't the worst of them, neither in villainy or quality, but as an origin story/prequel, this wasn't going to be in the same territory as most Dracula adaptations anyway. His big red cape here has allusions ranging from Superman to Thor, via 300 with its allusions to child soldiers. As the plot is established, the film fixes itself as a tale of how a good man becomes corrupted by evil, even if you can see the machinery beneath this, as a franchise launchpad.
Inevitably, that means the film has its cake and eats it too, keeping Evans' hunky prince onside as a good man for the duration, while failing to really establish its villains. Charles Dance vamps it up spectacularly as the cave-dwelling sire who puts the plot in motion, promising that if Vlad succumbs to temptation and makes the change permanent, he will unleash his own vengeance upon those who imprisoned him. The way this pays off (or rather, doesn't pay off) must be a violation of some Chekov's crusty vengeful vampire rule of storytelling and there's no clearer indication of intent for this to continue in another film. It feels like a whole third act is chopped off.
The nominal villain is Dominic Cooper's swarthy, tyrannical Sultan, whose lack of screen-time dulls the impact of an admittedly well-choreographed final showdown with the prince. Plus, with all seriousness, his character enacts a military strategy of blindfolding his men as they march, which seems more like a cutaway from a spoof war movie. Evans proves to be a strong centre alongside Sarah Gadon, who makes a compassionate turn out of what could easily have been a thankless role as Vlad's wife Mirena, even if the surrounding stakes don't bear up to their emotional heft.
Dracula Untold is now showing at cinemas and IMAX screens nationwide.
If you've seen Dracula Untold, why not share your comments below? Who's got a good idea about how to make the Creature from the Black Lagoon all cuddly and Welsh?
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.