In 1462, peace in Transylvania is threatened when the Ottoman Empire's Sultan Mehmed II (Dominic Cooper, "The Devil's Double") demands 1,000 boys, including Prince Vlad III of Wallachia's (Luke Evans, "Fast & Furious 6") own son, for his army. Determined not to give in as his father before him, Vlad makes a deal with a vampire (Charles Dance, "Gosford Park," HBO's 'Game of Thrones') that will give him the power of 100 men, but also an unquenchable thirst for human blood, in "Dracula Untold."
Director Gary Shore and screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless meld history with mythology for an entertainingly cheesy period fantasy adventure cum origin film grounded by a committed performance by Luke Evans as Lord Impaler. The plot synopsis of the film sounds silly, but it works better than expected, largely following the real history of Vlad as a protector against the Ottoman Empire while working in bits of Dracula lore fairly ingeniously (I particularly enjoyed this film's version of Renfield ('Shameless's' Zach McGowan as Shkelgim), looking here like some kind of Peruvian Rasta man).
When Vlad and his entourage investigate Broken Tooth Mountain looking for Ottoman invaders, they encounter something else altogether when a cave ejects a multitude of bats in broad daylight. The crushed human bones within are not the work of the Turks, and some kind of monster lurking in the darkness takes some of Vlad's men. Later as he and his people celebrate ten years of peace during an Easter banquet (a bit of parallelism referencing a savior rising from the dead), a Turk emissary arrives to make Mehmed's demands. Vlad, whose army cannot possibly hold back the Turks, goes back to Broken Tooth where he agrees to drink the blood of the Master Vampire, who will be freed from his cave should Vlad drink human blood within the three days he is gifted with inhuman powers. On his way back to Castle Dracula, Vlad leans on a boulder and is amazed that he not only crushes it, but that his shredded hand heals before his eyes. He hears the strangulation of an insect in a spider's web, sees the lifeblood of forest deer and turns into a cloud of bats in order to travel at great speed. At home his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon, "A Dangerous Method," "Cosmopolis") is astonished that his battle scars are gone, but Vlad, initially at least, keeps his transformation secret (later, most amusingly, he leaves a campfire to enter a tent where Mirena's lit like a luscious snack).
Vlad enlists his men to secure his people in a monastery high in the mountains while he stays behind and defeats the first wave of 1,000 Turks with his dark powers. But when Brother Lucian (Paul Kaye, HBO's 'Game of Thrones') recognizes and exposes what he has become, Vlad is forced to fight on two fronts. History tells us what happens, but these filmmakers bring their antihero into modern times where he happens upon a gorgeous young woman who looks just like his wife (Gadon) and she makes a startling introduction.
The film has the earmarks of a Europudding movie, with obvious matte shots and some clunky CGI, but it's obvious a lot of thought has gone into the film, from costume to production design. Charles Dance's makeup and prosthetics are horrific and the actor embodies intelligent evil. Luke Evans is a dashing and sympathetic Vlad nicely paired with Gadon whose Princess is both his reason for living and downfall. Noah Huntley ("Snow White and the Huntsman") and Diarmaid Murtagh ("The Monuments Men") add flavor as Vlad's right hand men.
"Dracula Untold" is a unique take on the vampire story with Vlad the Impaler as a heroic Prince yearning for peace whose devotion to his family costs him dearly. I for one wouldn't mind the followup that the final scene hints at.
Robin did not see this film.
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