Dracula Untold (2014)

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Anyone who knows me knows that I have a weak spot for Dracula. I have read quite a few different novels on both the fictional Count from Transylvania as well as the historical son of the Dragon, Vlad Tepes. I love vampire novels, but I’ve also found the real Vlad to be much more interesting than the fictional creation of Bram Stoker. Dracula Untold seeks to combine the two Vlads while also creating a sort of vampire “superhero.” Dracula Untold is a thrilling and dark story that pleases, but doesn’t ever really surprise.
One of my favorite novels, the one that I always recommend, is Vlad: The Last Confession by C.C. Humphreys. I’ve read it 3 times I love it so much. Action, romance, it’s a historical fiction that feels fresh and different. Here is a depiction of the real life Vlad Dracula that isn’t afraid to show him for what he truly was: a monster. But a highly intelligent, charismatic, courageous monster. He is the ultimate anti-hero, but he doesn’t act without a purpose. He has reasons, not always commendable ones, for the acts he commits. He is also a lover, loyal to his country and allies. Vlad: The Last Confession succeeds in making the reader like Vlad, despite some of his gruesome deeds.

This time around Vlad's a family man.
This time around Vlad’s a family man.

I wish Dracula Untold had been brave enough to depict Vlad as C.C. Humphreys did in his novel. As an antihero. But selling that kind of movie would be difficult, so I can see why the studio would shy away from that. Universal also wants to set up a cinematic universe with their “monsters” to, I guess, compete with Disney and Warner Brothers’s comic book universes and superheroes. Hence why in Dracula Untold Vlad has some powers that more so resemble a hero than a vampire.
Due to my previous knowledge of the real Vlad the Impaler I did not like that in Untold Vlad is first and foremost a “family man.” It so obviously was just a ploy to gain the audiences sympathy. But whatever, I understand that, so while I don’t like that direction I can forgive it. I thought Sarah Gadon and the young boy who plays Vlad’s son were good in their roles, so it was easy to see why Vlad loves them so much. I like that Untold does attempt to incorporate a lot of the historical facts surrounding Vlad. It was a nice touch. I understand that this film is basically just an action movie, not a historical representation of Vlad (although apparently Brad Pitt’s production company is working on a Vlad film that will only be about the history, no vampirism, so fingers crossed for that). So again, I can forgive this film for things that I would condemn more pretentious movies for. But I really disliked how Untold just throws in “yeah, Vlad impaled a bunch of people, but we’re not going to explain how or why. But believe us, he’s a good guy, so he must have had his reasons.” That kind of logic doesn’t fly with me. I really didn’t like how that was glossed over.
It’s really really difficult to straddle such a fine line of good and evil with a character like Vlad. But he doesn’t need to be treated like an average superhero. I think he could be made to be more human (you know what I mean). It’s risky, but if he had been more unlikeable I don’t think audiences would be scared. If anything they might welcome a change. Think something along the lines of if the Joker from The Dark Knight got his own spinoff movie. People would love that. A bad guy just being bad, but with his own logical reasons for it. I think it could work as long as he didn’t do anything too heinous. Universal went the same, predictable route with Dracula Untold, but that approach doesn’t always pay off. Audiences aren’t stupid and I think Dracula as a character appeals to so many people because he’s sexy (duh), but he’s also a badass.
If you take this film for what it is, basically an action flick (along the lines of Batman Begins) with battle sequences, costumes and handsome men brooding then I think the average viewer will really enjoy it. I really liked Dracula Untold. I even kind of loved it. Maybe that’s partly due to my love of everything Dracula (after Untold I had a craving to see Coppola’s Dracula again), including those cheesy Christopher Lee movies. But it isn’t really just that. Untold is fun (for a movie with an impaler as the protagonist). I really enjoyed the cinematography, it makes this an action film that is slightly above average. Some of the shots and effects were unique and entertaining. I especially enjoyed the final battle sequence.

Never mind Vlad (Luke Evans). He's just practicing his Blue Steel look for his next life as a runway model.
Never mind Vlad (Luke Evans). He’s just practicing his Blue Steel look for his next life as a runway model.

Luke Evans is a great Dracula. He doesn’t have a whole lot to work with, but he manages to make him more than just the two dimensional character on the page. He reminded me a little of Johnny Depp (I’ve always wanted to see him as a vampire. Then I got Dark Shadows. My heart still aches over that). Sexy, with that loner vibe, and appropriately dangerous. Luke is promising. He’s not on a level with Gary Oldman, but he can be proud of the work he’s done. Without his presence the film would have been much more boring. The same can’t be said for Dominic Cooper though. He could have just stood there twisting his mustache. He had no presence, he did not evoke any fear or apprehension in the viewer. It’s actually one of the major faults of the film; failing to create an interesting antagonist that could believably be Dracula’s equal. I liked that the film has a relatively short running time (about 90 minutes). But maybe they should have added a scene or two about Vlad’s childhood with the Turks, or something that fleshed out Dominic’s character.

Just when you thought Dominic Cooper couldn't get more boring, he does!
Just when you thought Dominic Cooper couldn’t get more boring, he does!

I was very pleasantly surprised by Dracula Untold despite some of its drawbacks. My expectations going into the film were very low. But this is an enjoyable action movie that I would recommend to all my friends. It’s a fun way to spend a Saturday night out. I love the character of Dracula, in all his many iterations, and this film just affirms that. This film holds back just a little too much in order to play it safe and secure a PG-13 rating. But it is still a better than average action movie, perfect to see just before Halloween. 7/10

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