Dracula Untold

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In an opening montage the son of Vlad the Impaler recounts the history surrounding the legendary character known as Dracula, and how the stories tell of a monster. Seeking to dispel the legend, Vlad the Impaler’s son recounts the events around which the one known as Dracula came to be.

In the middle ages the Sultan of Turkey sought to acquire and train boys in order to turn them into perfect soldiers who would hold no moral or ethical obligations. One such boy was Vlad, who became known as “the impaler” after his use of wooden stakes to display those whom he killed as a form of psychological warfare. Ultimately, Vlad was able to escape from his duty as a soldier, and was made the prince of Transylvania, a tribute territory to the Turkish Empire. While on a scouting mission in the woods Vlad and his team discover a Turkish helmet, and deduce that a scouting party of Turks have entered Transylvania territory. In their search for the party, Vlad and his men enter a cave in the mountains and encounter an ancient sorcerer and master vampire, who subsequently kills Vlad’s men, and drives Vlad out of his lair.

The following day, as Vlad and his subjects celebrate Easter, the Turkish party arrives unexpected. Anticipating that they have come for the tribute, Vlad offers the party silver coins, but the envoy demands that 1,000 boys be given over for service in the Turkish army. Vlad turns down the request, but lacks an effective armed force to compel the Turks to leave Transylvania in peace. After a failed attempt at diplomacy with the Turkish Sultan, Vlad skirmishes with a Turkish party that arrived to take his son for service in Turkish army. Realizing that he will need more power in order to defend his territory and his people, Vlad seeks out the vampire’s cave and explains that he has need of the vampire’s power. After listening to his story and cautioning him about the risks, the Master Vampire offers Vlad some of his blood, which infuses Vlad with the powers of the night. The Master Vampire explains that this power will last for three days, during which time Vlad will be tempted to drink human blood, but if he can withstand the urge for all three days he will be restored to his human form, also warning Vlad that,if Vlad accepts his curse and drink another’s blood, he will be released from his prison.

Upon his return from the cave Vlad observes a Turkish siege of Castle Dracula, and single-handedly takes on the besieging force, killing all but one (whom he leaves alive to deliver a message to the Sultan). Determined to protect his people at all costs, Vlad instructs the party to fall back to a mountain monastery whose geography will hinder any Turkish attempt to take the facility. It is here that Vlad meets Shkelgim, who dubs himself Vlad’s servant and gives him blood, only for Vlad to show hostility and refuse the offer. During the second night, the Transylvanian party is ambushed by Turkish forces, and Vlad and his men engage them. Although victorious in the engagement Vlad’s powers begin to attract attention from his closest advisers. The next day at the monastery, as Vlad attempts to rally his people ahead of the battle, his use of the demonic powers is exposed and the citizens at the monastery subsequently turn on Vlad, attempting to burn him to death in a tent. Angered over this perceived betrayal, Vlad- escaping the tent as the smoke created by the fire blocks out the sun- chastises his people before taking his leave.

That night, a massive Turkish force marches on the monastery. Vlad employs bats to defend the territory, however the incoming Turkish army turns out to be a decoy force deployed to allow a handful of Turks to infiltrate the monastery and kill the citizens within. Mirena’s attempt to defend her son from the Turks fails, and she ultimately falls to her death, despite Vlad’s attempt to save her. Angered over the loss of his wife, Vlad embraces the darkness within himself and honors Mirena’s last request to drink her blood to give him the strength to save their son before his time as a vampire expires. Returning to the monastery to find a handful of survivors, Vlad offers each the chance for vengeance, and gives them his blood to drink.

At the primary Turkish Army camp the Sultan and his men are preparing for a massive invasion of Europe when Vlad and his small band of vampires arrive. A battle erupts between the two forces, however Vlad’s vampires are vastly superior to the Turkish soldiers, and the battle degenerates into a massacre. While the vampires take their vengeance on the Turkish forces Vlad seeks out the Sultan, who has taken his son captive. Aware of the vampire’s weakness to silver, the Sultan has lined the floors of his tent with silver coins, and engages in a battle with Vlad using a silver sword. Ultimately, despite his use of silver to weaken Vlad and a wooden stake to try and impale his heart, the Sultan’s attempt to kill Vlad fails, with Vlad turning briefly into a flock of bats to escape his assault and then drink his blood.

With his enemy vanquished, Vlad and his son emerge from the Sultan’s tent, whereupon they are surrounded by the other vampires Vlad brought. Vlad’s vampires demand to drink the child’s blood, arguing that the child does not matter now that Vlad is prince to the vampires, but they are stopped by the unexpected presence of a Monk, who keeps the vampires at bay with a Christian cross. After consoling his son, Vlad instructs the monk to take him away, then uses his power to clear the cloud coverage. The absence of the clouds results in the death of the vampires as they are unable to withstand the effects of direct sun contact.

In the aftermath of the battle, Vlad is presumed dead and the Turkish army defeated, leaving Europe safe from invasion and occupation. Vlad’s son is crowned the new prince of Transylvania, and the name Dracula is passed down to future generations as a legend. Finding him in his near death state, Shkelgim finds and revives Vlad, who then remains out of the public eye.

In the present day, a woman named Mina who strikingly resembles Mirena is approached by a man who complements her flowers and recites her favorite piece of poetry, seemingly by coincidence. The man introduces himself as “Vlad”, and the two depart together. Unbeknownst to him, the Master Vampire has also survived the centuries of time and proceeds to follow them, reciting the very words that he said to Vlad prior to turning him into a vampire: “Let the games begin.”

REVIEW:

Dracula is perhaps the most revered, respected, and complex characters in the annuls of horror. Part of this is perhaps linked to the fact that, unlike the Invisible Man, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula was a real person. Well, he was based on a real person. Dracula Untold takes the history of Vlad the Impaler and the mythos of Dracula’s origins, smashed them together like peanut butter and jelly and gives us a film that may or may not be worthwhile.

What is this about?

Blending elements of history and vampire mythology, this new look at the life of the legendary Dracula explores his origin, from his first foray into darkness to his ultimate evolution as a bloodsucking fiend.

What did I like?

Savagery. Ever since to infernal Twilight movies came out, our vampires have been anything but the savage creatures they are supposed to be. Sure, True Blood had some glimpses here and there, but even with them, they were mainly housewife fodder, to coin a term. The vampires in this film don’t care about anything but feeding and revenge. As you can imagine, this leads to lots of killing, which is what vampires do, rather than sparkle in the sunlight or pontificate upon their feelings for one mysteriously powerful female.

Luke Evans. For this film to work, the guy playing Vlad had to be able to convey compassion, mercy, restraint, repressed anger, etc., as well as give a solid performance. I believe that Luke Evans did a more than adequate job delivering a knockout performance, laying to rest any questions as to whether he is a big enough star to carry a film on his own, one that has no “name” actors, save for Dominic Cooper. Evans’ star has been on the rise since…well, I first saw him in The Three Musketeers. I believe his big leap was in Fast & Furious 6. Evans’ time is now and with this performance, he shows he can take the ball and run with it.

Shock and awe. When I first saw the trailer for this during the early part of the summer, I was quickly taken aback. At first, I thought they had hidden the fact that they were making a movie based on the game Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and its recently released sequel. At times, this film feels like this could have very well been just that. Maybe someone in Hollywood should take notes if they ever decide to pull that trigger. All that aside, the action scenes are fantastic. There is one scene, this is after Evans first gets his powers, where he walks out to face 10,000 Turks on his own, mixing his own renown (and feared) skills with his new vampire powers. It is quite a sight, but this just the beginning, as the other scenes of action, while not as impactful, are just as exciting!

What didn’t I like?

Nobody’s business but the Turks. I’m not sure how historically accurate this film is regarding the Turks, but it seems a bit odd that they were just allowed to take 1000 boys from these kingdoms, train them, and then come back and defeat them with those very boys, who have now been fully brainwashed! Also, in another case of Hollywood not wanting to take the time to find someone of correct ethnic origin, Dominic Cooper is sprayed yellow, so as to appear as if he’s a Turk. The strange thing about this is, his men appear to be authentically ethnic. WTF?!? Hollywood?

Future. In a sort of epilogue to the film, and also something that happens in the aforementioned Castlevania, we are suddenly transported to present day. Personally, I didn’t think was necessary, unless somehow Dracula had come back, turned his son, and they were going live out eternity together. Sadly, that was not the case, as we get Dracula coming across a woman, who coincidentally looks just like his long dead wife, named Mina (a nod to the famous character from the novels). Was this all necessary? I think not, but rumor is they are attempting to start up a rebooted Universal monster “universe”, if you will. Time will tell on that one, though.

Just die already. I know this is a movie and deaths are elongated for dramatic effect and such, but falling from the top of a castle down into a ravine filled with jagged rocks is sure to kill one on impact, and yet Vlad’s wife is able to hang on long enough to spout a few mournful lines and tell him to feed on her. First, let me touch on her living so long. Yes, Vlad dives down to save her, and it is possible he cushioned her fall, but I don’t think he got there in time. This was just drug out for dramatic effect. As far as the feeding goes, the deal was that he had to avoid drinking blood for 3 days. If he managed to do this, he would return to his normal form. All he had to do was make it to sundown and he would have been human again. Instead, his dying wife insists he give up his humanity because she’s dying. I know she was dying and all, but did she not think about their son? Maybe that’s just my weird train of thought, but it seemed a bit insensitive, to me, especially since this whole mess is about trying to protect the boy!

Not since Bram Stoker’s Dracula has Vlad the Impaler’s story been told as well, and in a sympathetic way, as here in Dracula Untold. Yes, liberties were taken, but this is a Dracula movie, not a Vlad biopic. Speaking on the film proper, I found it to be quite entertaining, albeit a little slow in pockets. I do have a bit of a complaint with the old vampire, he went on this long diatribe about how he would hunt down the one who betrayed him, and yet we don’t see him again until the very end of the film. Perhaps he is being setup for something more in the proposed future films? Also, it seems to me that this should have been a much more bloody and violent flick. Perhaps the Pg-13 rating held it back, though. Ugh! I wish studios would stop being so concerned about a “guaranteed audience” and just make the film the way it is meant to me made, but that’s a topic for another day. So, do I recommend this film? Yes, it is October, so you’re more than likely in the mood for something in this, um…vein? Also, there isn’t much coming out right now that is worth watching, as this is when studios release the stuff they didn’t think was good enough for the summer or holiday movie seasons. Check it out, why don’t you?

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

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One Response to “Dracula Untold”

  1. […] Today, for a monster movie to work it has to be deep, dark, complex, etc. As I said in my review of Dracula Untold, there is a rumor of a rebooted monster universe on the horizon. I’m not quite sure if I, […]

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