Cam's Eye Review: DRACULA UNTOLD (2014)

In 15th-century Transylvania, Vlad III (Luke Evans), prince of Wallachia, is known as a just ruler. With his beloved wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon), Vlad has brokered a prolonged period of peace and ensured that his people are protected, especially from the Ottoman Empire. However, when Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) demands 1,000 of the country's boys, including Vlad's son, for his army, Vlad makes a deal with a monster that will enable him to defeat the Turks -- but cost him his humanity.

Better Left Untold.

"Bats don't come out during the day. Something's disturbed them," Prince Vlad Tepes muses out loud to two of his best fighting men outside a cave they investigate. He discovers an ancient monster instead as he becomes the lone survivor of a vampire attack.

Luke Evans (The Hobbit) plays the doomed creature in this new retelling of his death/birth into our classic monster. Other reviewers start out with the oft-quoted "Sometimes the world doesn't need another hero. Sometimes what it needs is a monster" line. The reason I don't use it is because I'm more concerned about the substance and style of this movie. It comes off more like a Batman Begins than anything else. And it was missing the mark in its storytelling. So let's take a look at the story.

For the past 10 years that Prince Vlad returned from fighting alongside the Turkish army and becoming "The Impaler," a nickname he earned to show his enemies the brutality of what he could do, he becomes a family man with Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and raising his young son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson).

One day, when pressed by an emissary of the new Sultan Mehmet II (Dominic Cooper) to send 1000 Transylvanian boys into the Turkish army, he refuses. Prince Vlad then tries to plead with the Sultan to reconsider. He does not. With absolutely no choice, he speaks to his son who seems to understand his father's dilemma. Wishing to protect his son, both he and Ingeras's mother have a fight but the boy stoically voices his desire to go.  In an open field for an exchange of his son to a small group of the Sultan's, Vlad tells his son to run back to his mother as he decimates the Sultan's men. Now Prince Vlad begins the rift between his own people he wishes to protect and the Turks.

First of all, I wish to reveal that in 2013 I was given the opportunity to give my input on this new concept in an online survey. I thought that the premise was interesting and seemingly unique. Although visually stunning and mostly dark, I found it too often lacking in a more "monstrous" appeal. Aside from the Master Vampire, portrayed by Charles Dance, who is a celebrated actor whose choices lean toward evil characters, we don't see a monster in Evans. We see, instead, a wooden and stereotypical family man who makes the ultimate sacrifice. Ho-hum...

As for killing the Sultan's entourage, Vlad knew there would be consequences. As he was told of the beast in the cave by Brother Lucien (Paul Kaye) after his first run-in with it years ago, he takes it upon himself to make a bargain with it to obtain the powers he needs to stop the Sultan's army against the Transylvanians. The Master Vampire tells Vlad to drink its blood and he would be transformed with heightened senses, strength, and speed. If he could also not give in to the overwhelming desire for consuming blood for three days, he would become human again. Only twice are we given scenes of Vlad's blood desires and then we don't see it come up again; which I found disconcerting. And disappointing. I wanted to see more of that.

On the first day of Vlad's new powers a legion of Turks are sent to fight Vlad and his people. He kills the army all by himself and even his own people see an incredible change and are astonished. But Mirena finds out his secret first as well as his son. Then his own people turn against him when they find out and try to burn him alive.

I understand that there should be character growth in a movie but it seemed cookie-cutter cliche to me and very one-note acting on Evans' part. To be honest, I didn't see any character growth whatsoever in all of the major characters. The evolution from man to monster wasn't all that believable and, aside from some fabulous visual effects from Framestore, the story of one man against an army was tired and overdone. However, the penultimate twist of having a vampire army fight against the Turks was visually pleasing in and of itself. There is that to take away from what I feel is a forgettable film.

As the Sultan becomes informed of Vlad's powers, he takes precautions in a standoff between the two. As silver slows the Prince down, Mehmed and he fight to the death as his kidnapped and tied-up son watches on. And this is when he chooses on the second day to become fully turned at the behest of his dying wife when some Turks take Ingeras. There is no beast here - just a man who is angry and now wants his son back. Is this a 15th century version of Taken?

If you can stand the 90 minutes (quite short in contrast to other big-budget fare), somewhat interesting fight scenes, lovely costuming by the Lord Of The Rings's own Ngila Dickson, and visual effects near the end which pays off big time, get back to watching the original black & white Dracula and tell me which one impresses you the most. Hands down, the original is better than this better-left-untold version.

Cameron Farmer is a freelance writer based in California with a shared interest in several topics other than film which you can learn more about via his Facebook fan page over at Kingspirit Entertainment. Feel free to subscribe to his page and follow him on Twitter @CameronFarmer8.


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