Universal Studios wants to launch a new Universal Monsters franchise using the same thought process that Marvel used when launching their mega-successful franchise. Sadly for Universal, if Dracula Untold is to be the start of the new franchise, they might be in some trouble. While Dracula Untold was not meant to be the start of the franchise, and was only connected with a closing scene in the present day at the last minute, the rest of the monster movies that follow will need better writers if they want to make it past The Mummy in 2016.
Dracula Untold is an origin story and re-imagines how the immortal blood sucker gained his powers. Dracula Untold had promise because it was, at the end of the day, a very entertaining movie when it came to the action and set pieces. However, watching the story unfold is such a dreary pain, with so many cringe-worthy moments, that the fun action quickly dissipates in your mind as you leave the theater.
The set up is nice. Vlad is the prince of Transylvania. He was once a child whose father gave him to the Turks along with numerous other kids from his village where he is raised to be a warrior. While most of these children died in battles, Vlad grew into the mightiest of all the child warriors. He bargained for his freedom as an adult and returned to his home where he married, had a son of his own and ruled in peace.
Things go bad when his childhood friend, the son of the Turk ruler who kidnapped him, grows up and becomes just like his father. He demands that Vlad turn over 100 children from his kingdom plus his own son to show his loyalty to the Turk army. Vlad refuses and kills the Turks sent to take his son. When he realizes that this means that his kingdom will be destroyed, he makes a deal with a devil.
In this version of the origin of Dracula, Vlad was not the first vampire. He finds an ancient vampire in a cave, one who was tricked by the vampire who turned him. This elder vampire can never leave the cave until he finds someone worthy to be his successor. He strikes a deal with Vlad. He gives him blood to drink and a deal – if Vlad can go three days without feeding on a human, he will return to normal. Until the three days are up, he has all the superhuman powers that a vampire has and has that short time to beat back the Turks and save his kingdom. If he does feed on a human, his soul is damned and the elder vampire states that he will call upon Vlad in the future for vengeance against the one that turned him.
After this, the entire movie goes to hell.
Like I said, the action is awesome, the vampire effects are pretty cool (if somewhat ridiculously over-the-top at times) and the death scenes are gruesomely awesome. The story is what drags this movie down to a forgetful mess.
Some spoilers will follow.
The first big problem with Dracula Untold is that Vlad is a superhero in this movie. He is not a monster, he is not the Prince of Darkness, and he is not any Dracula I have ever seen. When he first gets his powers, we might as well be watching a comic book superhero origin story. He realizes he has superhuman strength when he crushes a rock and says that should come in handy. He has superhuman hearing, superhuman sight (he can see the solar system) and superhuman speed. He can also somehow turn himself into a bunch of bats to fly fast. And the biggest crime of all is that – for no reason that the movie ever explains – he can control the weather and cause clouds to block out the sun.
Those are things that the script added to help him achieve his goals and the weather control makes zero sense. Most of what happens in this movie makes zero sense.
His kingdom loves him and wants him to protect them. After he saves their lives, they learn that he is a vampire and, while the Turks are closing in, decide to kill him – the only person who has the power to save them. He survives and tells them that there will be none of that, and they move on like nothing happened. Towards the end of the movie, his people try to turn on him again. Seriously, by the end, you just have no idea why he cared about saving these people at all.
Actually, his reason for fighting was his family – his wife and son. Anyone who knows the story of Dracula knows the fate of his wife, and that really doesn’t change much here. However, as everyone knows, Dracula exists so he failed in his promise to not drink human blood for three days. The reason that he finally drank human blood, and damned his soul, was just so dumb it can’t be believed. Honestly, I know that he wanted to save his son and had no other choice, but the scene where it happened made me want to throw something at the screen. The dialogue just ruined everything and the movie died for me at that instant.
By the end of the film, Dracula did some pretty horrific things. He claimed he was becoming a monster to save his people, but in reality, he never became a real monster. He was a superhero from start to finish, and while he killed some really bad people and gained some revenge against his own people who turned on him, he was the most noble person in this entire movie.
This was not Dracula.
At the end of the day, Dracula Untold was a movie that was all style and no substance with a script that treated the audience like the screenwriters hated them all. The legacy of the Universal Horror Monster is a great one. This movie just spit on that legacy and delivered a new version of the Dracula story that changed everything that made the monster great.