Having spent many years in the Turkish army against his will, Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans) has returned home to rule Transylvania in peace. When Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), commander of the Turks and former friend of Vlad demands 1,000 Transylvanian boys – including Vlad’s son – to boost his army, Vlad goes to extraordinary lengths to protect his kingdom and his family.
There are so many different vampire movies and myths now that it is hard to keep track of them all. Universal. However, has decided to go back to the beginning, and tell the tale of the historical figure that allegedly inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Vlad the Impaler.
Luke Evans takes on the role of Vlad/Dracula in his first leading role in a movie, and does a fine job. Evans’ Dracula is tortured and scared, as well as formidable and more than a little scary. Evans certainly looks vampiric in the role, and brings enough presence to the screen to make the character work. Sarah Gadon takes a step away from her Cronenbergian roles, and takes on the character of Mirena, Vlad’s wife. She doesn’t have an awful lot to do, but she looks good doing it. Dominic Cooper camps up the role of Mehmed; one so similar to those we have seen him play before that it is hard to distinguish this from any of his other roles. Charles Dance has a lot of fun as the Master, and even though he chews through every piece of scenery available, his scenes are menacing and entertaining.
The screenplay, written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, and based on Stoker’s characters blends historical fact and fiction together to give us an understanding of Vlad before he became the tortured romantic he has been recently portrayed as. The film plays with the notions put forward in Stoker’s work, and stretches these out so that Vlad can turn into bats at will, and so a sequel is nicely set up. There are characters that feel entirely surplus to requirement, however, and the vampire myth is never fully explained.
As director, Gary Shore puts all of his weight behind the action sequences, and plays with the physicality of the central character. The trouble arises in the pacing of the film, which seems to rattle along almost too quickly, so that developments feel as though they happen too quickly, and characters are never fully developed. As well as this, there are times when the film feels like a long form music video in its over the top set pieces which, while spectacular, feel as though they were edited for the trailer and not the movie as a whole.
Dracula Untold is a fun and entertaining origins story of the character we know as Dracula. Luke Evans does well in the leading role, but the rest of the cast struggle to step out from his shadow. First time director Gary Shore directs capably, but there are times when the pacing stumbles, characters feel superfluous and the set pieces threaten to engulf the movie. Still, a Dracula who wins a swordfight by turning into bats? Yes!