When one is going to tackle a character as iconic as Dracula one has to be very careful, for fans can be very critical and the danger is even greater when you are doing an origin story that tries to make one of literature’s great monsters sympathetic. Look what happened with Maleficent. You must ask yourself the question, “Does this untold story really need to be told?”
Although based on actual historic characters, this movie plays more like an Elseworlds alternate dimension story than anything close to factual events. Vlad Dracula (Luke Evans) did exist and he did have a beef with the Turkish Sultan, Mehmed the Conqueror (Dominic Cooper), and the country of Transylvania is a real place, but that is pretty much the extent of this films historical accuracy.
Historical Note: Vlad Dracula was named Vlad the Impaler posthumously; no one called him this to his face.
We learn that when Vlad was a child he was given up to the Turks to be part of the Sultan’s elite Janissary guard, and after years of war and slaughtering thousands, where he earned the nickname “The Impaler”, he eventually gets disheartened by his monstrous acts, decides that he’s had enough, and leaves for home to live in peace. Why the Sultan allows his most ferocious warrior to just grab his toys and go home is never explained.
Years later he is married to Mirena (Sarah Gadon), has a young son (Art Parkinson), and all is right with the world. Transylvania has had ten years of peace, and aside from a creepy monster that lives in a cave atop a dark and scary nearby mountain that who kills all that enter, everything is just spiffy.
When the Sultan sends an envoy with instructions for Vlad to deliver one thousand boys along with his son to the Turkish army, Vlad’s peaceful world begins to crumble. With no army of his own, Vlad has no choice but to obey. That is until he suddenly decides that the dark killing machine in that horrible cave could be the answer to his prayers. He enters the vampire’s lair and asks for the power to defeat his enemies. The Master Vampire (Charles Dance) agrees, because he has his own evil agenda and needs a disciple to free him from this cave. Once Vlad drinks the blood of the vampire, gaining all those nifty powers, he learns that he must resist the insatiable thirst for human blood for three days or he will be damned for all eternity and the old vampire will be free of the cave. If he manages to resist, he will regain his humanity.
“I know this seems like an overly complicated bargain but I was a lawyer before I became a vampire.”
Now with super-strength, heightened senses, and the ability to transform into a swarm of bats, he marches on the Turkish army killing a thousand soldiers single-handedly. Vlad’s people barely bat an eye at this and quickly agree that they must all flee to the Cozia Monastery before the full force of the Turkish army arrives to crush them. While en route to Helm’s Deep *cough*, I mean the monastery, they are attacked by a scouting party of Turks and a bunch of good Transylvania folk are killed, because Vlad can’t travel during the day and can only arrive when the sun sets.
At what turns out to be the most well-armed monastery in the history of monasteries Vlad readies his people for war, but when a local monk notices Vlad avoiding daylight, he exposes Vlad’s monstrous nature to the people who then immediately try and kill him by setting the building he is in on fire. Lucky for Vlad the fire causes black smoke that blots out the sun, allowing him to escape and then chew out his subjects for being ungrateful fucks.
The Sultan’s army finally arrives, blindfolded so that they won’t see the horror that they face, and yes this looks as stupid as it sounds. Vlad calls upon every bat on the planet and forms a gigantic fist out of them, which he then blasts into the Turkish army with the force of a hurricane.
Unfortunately, someone left the backdoor open to this mountaintop monastery, a bunch of sneaky Turks managed to get in through all the incredibly inept Transylvanian soldiers, capture Vlad’s kid, and knock Mirena off the mountain. The sun is beginning to rise, so Vlad is unable to save her, instead having to comfort her and listen to her dying words. Words I doubt anyone would be having after falling six hundred feet to a rocky valley floor, but hey, true love and all that. Mirena tells Vlad to drink her blood so that he can become powerful enough to save their son, even though she has no reason to believe this would be the case. Maybe they cut the scene explaining she was an expert on vampiric lore and it’s rules.
“Vlad, I know this will cost you your soul but we have to justify you turning into a monster somehow.”
Drinking her blood gives him the ability to instantly turn any of his wounded and dying subjects into vampires even though his own transformations looked to have taken at least a day. With his army of the undead he slaughters his way through the Turks to finally confront The Sultan. Mehmed apparently took the same course on vampires that Mirena did, because he somehow knows that silver is Vlad’s kryptonite and has littered the tent floor with silver coins to weaken Vlad.
Vlad turns into a swarm of bats and kills Mehmed. With his son saved it looks like a happy ending, that is until all the recently turned vampires decide the kid would make for a nice snack. Suddenly, the monk who outed Vlad as a vampire shows up with a cross and rescues the kid while Vlad uses his vampire super-mojo to part the clouds so the sun can bake all the vampires to dust including himself.
Dracula Untold isn’t a terrible movie. Director Gary Shore has a feel for the camera, and Luke Evans does his best with this version of Dracula, but sadly the effort that went into twisting and bending the Dracula legend to make him the hero is just too convoluted to work here. Which leads to the films main problem; if this is an origin story on how Vlad Dracula became the monster we know and love where is his descent into darkness? He commits not one evil act in the entire running time, though he does kill shit ton of Turks.
Basically, you should not have a story where the hero takes on dark powers to save his people and then show no downside. I think that’s in Story Telling 101. We do get a nice epilogue with Vlad in modern times hitting on a pretty Mina Harker while a very dapper Charles Dance looks on, which hints at what could be a good sequel. Dracula Untold is not a great chapter in the history of the world’s most famous vampire but it does have entertaining moments and I had fun watching if not always in the way the filmmakers intended.
Another origin story that nobody asked for, but Dracula Untold does provide some nice visuals and excellent performance by Luke Evans as the title character. Biggest criticism is that the film could have used more Charles Dance.