“Sometimes the world no longer needs a hero. Sometimes what it needs is a monster.” These words, spoken by Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), hint at what Dracula Untold really is: the first entry in a new shared cinematic universe in the vein of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe – a reboot of the Universal Monsters series, which will go on to feature the likes of the Mummy, Wolf Man and more.
Here, taking cues from Marvel, Dracula has been reimagined as a tragic superhero with a story arc that’s almost pound for pound what you’d expect from your average superhero origin. Vlad (Evans) seeks to save his kingdom and family from the gilded Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper). To this end he turns to an ancient and dark power, the so-called Master Vampire (Tywin Lannister himself, Charles Dance) in order to protect the innocent… at a price.
While Evans wields a sword with the best of them and puts in an overall compelling performance as the determined and desperate Vlad, Dance steals every scene he’s in as the uber and rather terrifying arch-vampire who puts the Impaler on the path to becoming the legendary bloodsucker Dracula. In many respects, Dance could be viewed as the villain of the piece – he’s a grand puppeteer. I just wish there was more of him since Mehmed’s rivalry with Vlad is rather underdeveloped and so Cooper’s baddy tends to vanish behind the glare of his golden armour.
Although it’s a predictable plot there’s actually little time to dwell on its shortcomings, as the 92-minute runtime means that most of the exposition is front-loaded with action coming quick and rarely letting up. In this respect, it’s an enjoyable flick because it doesn’t waste time and boasts some detailed design work (Vlad’s armour is suitably draconic) with moments of visual beauty peppered in amongst daft computer-generated bats. The lack of depth does ultimately hurt it however, as when the story concludes it feels incomplete. Certainly, the giant tease of an ending alone is enough to make you want more – but at least I actually did want to see more when the credits rolled.
Dracula Untold has excitement aplenty to get by as mindless entertainment but also enough potential brimming under its surface that I’m willing to looks past its numerous story flaws. It’s dangerously close to guilty pleasure territory but if the missteps are corrected, it could be remembered as the salvageable pilot for the rebirth of the undead corpse that is Universal Monsters. Thankfully, it also wipes the awful taste of The Twilight Saga out of our mouths too.