By Bruce Ingram/For Sun-Times Media
‘I just want peace, that’s all,” says the world’s most infamous vampire in “Dracula Untold” and, regrettably, he means it.
That doesn’t work out for him, fortunately, but the fact that he wishes for it underscores what’s wrong with this often-dull attempt to reframe Dracula as a sort of self-sacrificing goth superhero. Not only a hero, but a wise, benevolent ruler, a kind, loving family man, and an all-around nice guy to boot. Avert your eyes, Bram Stoker, wherever you are.
Incorporating the genuine conflict between the Turkish Empire and Vlad Tepes of Wallachia aka Vlad the Impaler aka the inspiration for Stoker’s Prince of Darkness, “Dracula Untold” opens in 15th century Transylvania. Prince Vlad (buff, brooding Luke Evans of “Immortals”) has given up his old, war-like, impaling ways for a life of cuddly domesticity with his pale, beautiful wife (Sara Gadon) and frolicking children. He has a problem, though. The evil Turkish sultan (Dominic Cooper) has demanded 1,000 Transylvanian boys to raise as warriors and Vlad can’t refuse because he doesn’t have an army.
He does have an unspeakably monstrous Master Vampire (Charles Dance of “Game of Thrones”) living in a cave in Broken-Tooth Mountain, though, so Vlad makes a deal with him. He will risk his soul for an undead trial membership. The loathsome old Master gives him the strength of 100 men, the speed of a falling star and the full range of vampire powers. He also promises to lift the curse if Vlad can go three days without drinking human blood. But if he can’t, he will be cursed forever.
That’s a clever idea and it adds an effective touch of drama to the film’s major selling point — namely, turning Vlad into a vampiric killing machine capable of devastating enormous numbers of Turks single-handed. First-time director Gary Shore makes the most of the opportunity to have Vlad wreak high-speed, CGI-drenched havoc on the enemy in several pitched battles, featuring his upgraded ability transform himself into a swarm of bats instead of just one.
Between battles, however, Vlad’s numerous speeches about love, honor and family grow tedious, along with the film’s wooden dialogue in general. And it quickly becomes obvious that “Dracula Untold” is more interested in being cool than making sense. When he learns that his soldiers are afraid to fight Vlad, for example, the Sultan has his enormous army march into battle blindfolded.
Which might help explain why the Ottoman Empire didn’t end up conquering the world.
Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Gary Shore and written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. Running time: 92 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of warfare, vampire attacks, disturbing images, and some sensuality).