After multiple misfires (I’m talking about you, Wolfman and Van Helsing), Universal finally gets its monster movie formula right.
Now let’s get one thing out of the way: this is not Dracula Underworld as most of the advertising has led us to believe, and that is a good thing. As an avid fan of horror movies, particularly Universal’s Classic movie monsters, I considered this movie a worthy update to the formula Bram Stoker laid down, with equal part Francis Ford Coppola for good measure.
Dracula Untold opens up with a unique freeze frame intro that is reminiscent of 300 but with its own style that I am sure will be used and abused like bullet time from the Matrix. Sophomore director Gary Shore wisely wastes no time setting up Dracula, played expertly by Luke Evans, and what is at stake for him. Within the first 25 minutes, we understand that Dracula is the prince of his kingdom but still serves a greater empire, the Turks. Then Sultan Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) requests that Dracula give him one thousand first born sons, including Dracula’s own son, a request he does not want to fulfill. Pressured by a promise he made to his wife, he must choose between what is good for his people and what is good for his family.
With no army sizable enough to defeat Sultan Mehmed, he must turn to a Broken Tooth Mountain inhabitant who is believed to be a vampire. During this amazing scene, the ground rules are set. If Dracula drinks from his blood, he will not be a full-fledged vampire, but only enjoy its gifts for three days. If he gives into the thirst and drinks the blood of anyone during this time, then he will forever be damned to a life of a vampire and lose all that he loves in the process. Scenes where Evans is learning what powers he has inherited were met with cheers from the crowd, and in my opinion were handled very well, given one of them involves turning into bats. I know–bat swarm–but it works and is genuinely awesome.
This film does drag occasionally, only because its fight scenes are so fast paced and expertly shot that when Dracula isn’t mowing through thousands of Turkish soldiers, you’re holding your breath hoping for another battle. The fight choreography in this film is not on par with The Winter Soldier, but its use of unique camera angles and good CG make it worth at least mentioning in the same sentence. I can recommend this film on its action sequences alone, but for fans of films like Braveheart or Gladiator, I can recommend this film to them as well. Am I saying that this film rivals either of those films? Of course not, but it does strive to hit those same emotional notes. I took it as admirable, and for the most part, it succeeds.
Luke Evans’ portrayal of Dracula will most likely be compared to Christian Bale’s “where’s the trigger” growling, but Evans out-broods even Bale in this film. Where Bale was brooding for the sake of putting a spin on the Batman character, Evans’ brooding is from being forced to make decisions no one would ever want to make–become a monster to save the ones you love and risk losing yourself in the process, or do nothing and lose it all. My only gripe with this film is a lack of a worthy opponent for Evans to brood against. Even with armor to bulk up Dominic Cooper, he’s just not menacing enough to share the screen with Evans. Their final showdown is good, but could’ve been better had an actor like Tom Hardy been chosen. See Bronson or The Warriors for further proof.
The last half of the film does not disappoint. Where most films run out of steam or fall flat, this film successfully achieves its mission to make you care about Dracula and positions him as an antihero. I can’t wait to see where this series goes next, and it has been a while since I could say that about a Dracula film, especially after recently watching Director Dario Argento’s 3D interpretation of the character.
No spoilers, but the film’s ending sort of drops a hint based on its setting and parting words from vampire master Games of Thrones alum Charles Dance. The Saw films came to mind when these words were uttered and credits rolled, but as a horror fan I was OK with it. Full disclosure: that was my favorite part. See the film to understand what I just declared.
As a reviewer, I don’t like to put a letter or number score on films. I believe too much work goes into them, even bad films, so who am I to assign a grade for their hard work. I keep it simple–see it or don’t see it. This film is a definite “see it” for fans of Dracula, and a “see it” recommendation for casual moviegoers looking for something to do on a Friday night. Also, be on the lookout for quick but fitting Renfield cameo, complete with a “yes master.”
Article by contributor Moan4Stallone.
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