If there’s one place Universal could truly make some big money at the box office it’s their classic monster franchises. With horror all the rave these days, they could all use an overhaul — even if the original films are still awesome — including Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and even The Invisible Man. Are audiences up for accepting modern takes on such treasured icons? If the executives at Universal have their say, the answer is whether they like it or not. Let’s just hope the rest of the films aren’t as passable as this weekend’s Dracula Untold, but at least it doesn’t, well, suck.
In this take on Bram Stoker’s classic tale, a voiceover informs us that in 1442, the Turkish army has taken control of all the young boys in Transylvania, including Vlad III Tepes. Fast forward to find a grownup Vlad (Luke Evans), now the prince, with a 10-year reign of peace about to come to an end. Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper) has ordered 1,000 boys to join his army, including Vlad’s only son Ingeras (Art Parkinson). In order to save the kingdom, Vlad heads to Broken Tooth Mountain to seek the power he needs from a demon/vampire (Charles Dance). Forced to drink the demon/vampire’s blood, Vlad now has the superhuman strength and ability to control bats and the weather to take down the approaching army. Something Vlad hopes to accomplish in the three days given him to either break the curse or feed on human blood and become the immortal mythical legend.
As much as I love my horror movies, my first sign of concern was when a TV spot finally informed me that Dracula Untold was given a PG-13 rating. Considering it looked like they were going for a dark, brooding atmosphere, I was hoping to see something along the lines of Braveheart or 300, and I still hope there’s an eventual unrated Blu-ray release. There are a couple of “ew” moments toward the end, but there’s something really lacking in the first hour. If you’re going to turn the character into an action hero, director Gary Shore and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burksharpless should have at least given him something to do. Instead, Vlad spends most of the runtime trying to find ways to stay out of the sunlight, and finally flies into action come sundown.
The cast are better than average considering most of them look unfamiliar. Evans is usually pretty boring, but it appears he’s picked up a few tips from working with Peter Jackson in The Hobbit films. Cooper gets to camp things up and is really fun to watch in the few scenes he’s given. He also is the only one who uses the stereotypical Dracula accent; everyone else just sounds English. Things take a fun turn in the final half hour — don’t worry, it’s only 91 minutes! — when Vlad is forced to embrace his fate as the titular character. According to rumor there’s supposedly an Easter egg scene used to setup the Universal Monster Universe. If it’s the end scene right before the credits, people are going to walk away scratching their heads. If Legendary Pictures and Universal really want this new monster universe to work, they’re gonna have to step up their game, but at least you won’t walk out of Dracula Untold calling it: “Dracublah.”
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