There is never a shortage of vampire movies, especially these days. Just in time for Halloween comes another attempt at bringing back the original vampire, Dracula himself. Unlike many Dracula movies, this one actually succeeds at bringing something new and worthwhile to the table.
The first sign of something new is the setting, sometime in the 1400s, I believe. Dracula is simply known as Vlad, a human who has been trained especially well at fighting and killing from growing up in the army. So there is a lot of medieval armor and clothing and fighting; it looks more like Lord of the Rings than a vampire movie to start.
The second sign of originality is that Vlad is actually a family man. He loves his wife, his child, and his princedom, and they love him. He’s an exemplary ruler. He just happens to have a problem with the local bully (the Turkish army that trained him). While he is a great fighter, he is only one man and he cannot defend his country with only his small army. He needs an advantage.
I think you see where this is going. It feels fresh, though, this idea of Dracula as a reluctant, unwilling vampire. The way the movie plays out, it’s very much like a superhero origin story. Mystic powers, learning to use them, find out about (and how to overcome) his vulnerabilities, unexpected consequences, the whole nine yards. Luke Evans plays Vlad and does a good job at earning sympathy. I’ve liked him quite a bit in the Hobbit movies and Immortals. The rest of the cast is largely unknown, although you might recognize the Turkish Sultan, Dominic Cooper, from a few things.
I particularly enjoyed a few of the visual flourishes. Vlad turning into a flock of bats, and back, is done with more style here than I’ve ever seen. They merge into his body, and he dissolves into them almost like smoke. The use of silver, always a staple of vampire movies, is done very creatively here. And when Vlad the Impaler lives up to his name, it’s gruesome and done in a very interesting way. I don’t want to spoil that scene, but it made me wish the filmmakers had incorporated more like it.
The drawbacks (because there always are) were what you usually expect from a blockbuster-esque action movie. A few plot holes, a few very convenient things happening, an utter disregard of actual time in a movie with a time limit as a major plot device. Nothing egregious, but it certainly felt a bit sloppy at times and I felt there were some easy fixes to a few of the scenes that didn’t actually make a lot of sense. The script probably just needed one more pass. Hey, filmmakers! I’m available for plot-hole script polishing!
The last thing to be noted is that Universal Studios has stated their intent to relaunch all of their classic monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, Mummy, and Creature from the Black Lagoon) and tie them together into a shared film universe, much like Marvel has done with their superheroes. Dracula is the first of that effort. To their credit, they do not mess around with references to other monsters in this movie. It’s entirely self-contained, although it does end on a bit of a tease for a potential sequel, of course. Of great interest to Universal (probably), is–will people be interested in this rebooted Monster Mash, culminating in an Avengers-style multi-monster movie? For me, the answer is yes. They got enough right with Dracula Untold that I’m hoping for more to come.