Some movies are just too big for one review. In cases like that, we present a Double-Feature Review. So here’s Timothy and Alex, each with a very distinctive take on Dracula Untold. Better effects. More money. Bigger crews. Enormous studios. Yeah – 2014 seemed like the perfect time to tackle yet another enormous remake/prequel/re-imagining of a popular franchise and character. Thus, Dracula – one of the first vampires in fiction (second to Carmilla, if memory serves) and one of the most popular and enduring villains of all time, has gotten a chance to be re-imagined… this time as a hero. So move aside Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracula 3000, Dracula on Ice, and the 20,000,000½ other Dracula-related properties to have existed since Bram Stoker wrote the original Dracula novel – today, we’re being gifted with the 2014 prequel to the original story, Dracula Untold. This new installment explores Prince Vlad Dracul’s fictionalized history; his life as a mortal, his rise, and his fall. It paints him as the protagonist, and loosely, as the hero. Right off the bat (hehehe) this brings up some neat questions about morality, concerning whether or not Vlad was ever a good person – he’s painted as one, yes. Yet he’s still painted as a man without remorse, a man who will take the wrong road to achieve the right end, and a man who is not above embracing the darkness both inside and outside of himself. This doesn’t happen. So, let’s take a look at Dracula Untold and try to suss out if this is a worthy prequel to the Dracula franchise. Also, for fun, we’ll pretend that hundreds of thousands of Dracula-oriented stories weren’t as unworthy as they most assuredly were. Since this film is still in theaters at the time of this writing I will be making this review free of major spoilers, such as the ending – though some certain obvious plot points I will illuminate in passing in order to illustrate my feelings on the film. This takes place in “long-as-fuck-ago A.D.,” where the Turks were actually still kind of a going concern and people were the least bit concerned about them taking over a damn thing. Apparently they were complete douchebags to the not-far-away people of Transylvania, with a penchant for stealing thousands of their adolescent children and transforming them into mindless soldiers. Conveniently, Vlad was one of these children, so we don’t need much of a reason to believe that he’s already a badass from the get-go. This beginning bit starts off pretty slow and kinda lowered my hopes for the film. It did, fortunately, improve quickly. Mostly because a wild vampire Lannister appears! That’s right, Charles Dance is in this film as what is apparently the OG vampire. I don’t recall his name in the movie, nor do I feel like looking him up, so I’ll refer to him as the “Old Beast” due to his striking resemblance to the character of the same title in the Necroscope book series. Here, he’s stumbled upon by Vlad and his men, with Vlad himself only just barely scraping by as he stumbles into the sunlight, gets the hint, and then gets the fuck out of there as quick as he can. This does though, and it’s awesome. Yadda yadda storyline, Vlad is a nice fellow and all of his peeps love him, but goodness gracious me! The Turks are back and they’re being total dicks! They walk into Castle Bran like they own the place and demand fealty in the form of one thousand adolescent boys. Well, Vlad doesn’t like that. He doesn’t like it much at all, but there isn’t much he can do because his army is nowhere big enough to actually fight back. He briefly considers acting like a responsible ruler and giving the children up to prevent his entire country from being wiped off the map – until the Turks decide to be even more of dicks and demand his son specifically. This is obviously the last straw, and Vlad chooses to fight a war he’ll inevitably lose. But he’s got an ace up his sleeve, in that he knows of the Old Beast – and specifically, that the Old Beast is searching for a worthy successor to pass his power onto. And, so, the film begins. I want to make a specific note on Charles Dance’s performance in this, because it deserves it. His performance as the original vampire is delicious – he has this scheming, cerebral nature that we’re used to seeing him exhibit, but beneath it is something a lot more. Something primal, brutal, and animal. This character is a predator, a predator who has evolved and grown to become the apex of the food chain. A predator whose prey is innocence and centuries. There’s something that was really fascinating about these conflicting layers, and I got chills when his character came onscreen. “Draaaagoooosaaaaaniiiiiii.” While I did enjoy the film overall, it definitely had flaws. The Old Beast explains to Vlad that if he can resist his bloodlust for three days straight (with the warning that this shit won’t be easy), he will turn back into a mortal man. If he can’t, and he feeds on a mortal, not only will he be cursed to be a monster forever, he’ll free the Old Beast as well, and bring unspeakable darkness and carnage on the world. This presents us with a classic “race against the clock” style of story, which can work pretty well in a film if it continues to ramp up the tension. The problem with Dracula Untold is that… well, it totally doesn’t do any of that. On the first day we’re exposed to Vlad’s powers and his weaknesses, and treated to an extremely engaging action scene. Vlad then proceeds to exhibit the worst time management skills ever. Alright, seriously – besides the totally unexplained plot device “Renfield-lite” character – this is my biggest issue with this movie. Put yourself in Vlad’s shoes here. You have exactly three days to save your people and your family from an overwhelming enemy force, and you have the power to do so. What exactly would you do? Seek and destroy, right? Wrong! Vlad plays this whole war on the defensive, despite making it clear that he wants to not only butcher, but make an example of the Turkish forces that want to take his family and people away from him. In fact, the entire second day is seemingly… missing. Like he just literally sat and waited the entire second day for the Turks to show up. Even worse, on the third day he waits until he has like… twenty minutes of night left. So of the three days he was allotted to defend his people, he efficiently used one of them. I’m harping on this a little more than I need to, but it really did bother me. Like Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, where any single good decision could have saved countless lives, the storyline of this film is dominated by Vlad’s lack of time management skills. Oh, also, this movie has a remarkable amount of parallels to 300. “Whassat?” you say. You heard me! 300! Vlad, like Leonidas, was a warrior-child who was beaten with rods in order to toughen him up. Vlad, like Leonidas, willingly takes on an insurmountable foe with the knowledge that he’s at a disadvantage. Vlad, like Leonidas, opts to take on said insurmountable force more or less by himself. Vlad, like Leonidas, has to climb up a steep cliff while his red cape flutters behind him. Vlad, like Leonidas, has nothing resembling the native accent of the culture he’s representing, but makes up for it in abs. Okay, so maybe I was grasping at straws for that last one. Moving on. Pictured: Not Leonidas. The supporting cast in this is… okay, it doesn’t exist. There are a few faceless one-dimensional side-characters, a wife and kid that we rarely see and have no real development or personality, and Vlad himself. While the main villain and the Old Beast have a bit more personality, they’re not in this very much and don’t do much “supporting” as simply moving the plot along through their actions. We don’t get to see the other facets of Vlad’s personality through the characters he interacts with, and for the most part he has to hold the film and character entirely by himself. And, honestly, don’t think I didn’t enjoy this movie. While I did have problems with it, I really enjoyed it overall. Even Luke Evans (who I previously just saw an overexposed and more masculine incarnation of Orlando Bloom) really surprised me with his performance, and gave us a few terrific scenes. The action scenes were gripping (though we needed a few more of them), and we got a couple really inspired shots. Of special note is the costume design. The costumes in this flick are just cool enough to let you look past the fact that nobody deserves costumes that cool. Like seriously. Vlad switches from badass outfit to badass outfit, whether it’s cool armor, cool armor sans cloak, a bitchin’ long-coat, or different badass armor. “Don’t even pretend I don’t look cool as hell.” So, yeah – well-acted, visually satisfying. Smart at times, dumb at times. Good action, but not enough of it. A couple gaps in the story that could use shoring up. What Dracula Untold giveth, Dracula Untold tends to taketh away. But at the end of the day, we see movies to enjoy ourselves – and while I’m not in full-snob mode, I really did enjoy myself with this one. It has charm, a strong visual style, and enough stand-out scenes to linger in the memory as a positive experience. If you’re a fan of Dracula or vampires in general, this pre-imagining is a must-see. And, hey, if you’re just a casual moviegoer who enjoys the right blend of action, horror, and adventure, and doesn’t wanna think too very hard about it, this film’s still a pretty safe bet. Just make sure to get popcorn or candy, you’re gonna want some to get through the not-exactly-riveting intro. Double Feature: Dracula Untold (2014) - Alex4.0Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.