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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Dracula Untold movie review: it doesn’t suck

Dracula Untold green light

A solid action fantasy more elemental and visceral than I expected, thanks to the potent presence of Luke Evans.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Luke Evans

I’m “biast” (con): fantasy action horror is not in a good place right now

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Untold? Really? How can that be? We’ve been telling Dracula stories for more than a century. There are literally hundreds of movies featuring the Transylvanian bloodsucker (and that’s not counting all the probably thousands of films about vampires who aren’t named Dracula). How can there possibly be anything yet untold about him?

Now, I haven’t seen all those previous movies, but I’ve seen the major ones, so I feel fairly confident in confirming that yes, Dracula Untold seems to have found some new angles on an old, oft-told tale, both in the character himself and in the way that the vampire mythology plays out. Not that the movie is not familiar, of course, because “familiar” is pretty much all Hollywood does these days. But this is more Game of Thrones than Nosferatu. More superhero than supernatural. More tragedy than horror.

This is Dracula’s origin story (well, another one). And yes, there will be more stories to come.

It’s the 15th century (or so I presume; the date isn’t mentioned) in Eastern Europe, which means the Turks are on the rampage and Vlad Tepes (Luke Evans: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Fast & Furious 6) is sitting on a throne in Transylvania. He has retired from impaling and just wants a peaceful life with his wife, Mirena (Sarah Gadon: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Belle) and young son, Ingeras (Art Parkinson: Game of Thrones, Dark Touch), and for his people, who have suffered greatly at the hands of the Turks. Alas, literally as Vlad and friends are toasting “10 years of peace and prosperity,” emissaries of the sultan Mehmed (Dominic Cooper: Need for Speed, Summer in February) arrive to demand 1000 Transylvanian boys to become child slave-soldiers to fight in the war against everyone. We know that Vlad is a Good Guy because he is himself a wounded former child slave-soldier veteran of the Turks’ wars, scarred in body and soul by his experience, and also because with a madman bent on world dominion on his doorstep, he thinks he can “negotiate.”

He does try, but… oh, poor Vlad. With no army of his own, he is forced to resort to the convenient ghoulish specter (Charles Dance: Game of Thrones, Underworld: Awakening) who lives in a nearby mountain, who — in one of those twists on vampire legend — is able to confer upon Vlad the strength and magical abilities of a vampire for three days. If Vlad can resist the impulse to drink human blood in that time, he will revert to being human. So now he just has to win a war against the most powerful army in the world in 72 hours. And also not drink any blood.

Ah, but I’m being unfairly flippant to what is honestly a solid action fantasy that didn’t once inspire in me the urge to shout something silly at the screen. The first film from commercial director Gary Shore and newbie scriptwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, this is smarter and more stylish than it could have been, and more elemental and visceral than I expected. It’s mostly Luke Evans who makes it work, though: he brings a lot of potent presence and still-waters emotion to a character who is more in the new vein of reimagined comic book heroes than he is like any Dracula we’ve seen before: flawed and complicated, and at least as vulnerable, physically and emotionally, as he is powerful.

All the leather doesn’t hurt, either. Or the notable female-gaziness of how the film presents him. There’s an actual legit story reason why we need to be looking at his handsome bod. Seriously.

Probably the only thing missing to render this ultimate popcorn fodder is a dose of humor… which I bet we get next time out. Untold ends with the promise of a sequel, and it’s so enticing that I want that sequel now.

As I learned from reader @danowen79, ‘Dracula Untold’ is now confirmed to be part of a new shared universe of the classic Universal monsters, also including the Mummy, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein. More from HeyUGuys.

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Dracula Untold (2014)
US/Can release: Oct 10 2014
UK/Ire release: Oct 03 2014

MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of warfare, vampire attacks, disturbing images, and some sensuality
BBFC: rated 15 (strong horror, violence)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Oracle Mun

    Well. I’m definitely intrigued. This sounds like a movie worth watching. Amazing to learn that there’s something new to be said about Dracula.

  • Bluejay

    Wow. Really? I thought this was going to be crap. I’ll have to check this out!

    ‘Dracula Untold’ is now confirmed to be part of a new shared universe of the classic Universal monsters

    Does Samuel L. Jackson make an appearance after the credits? “You think you’re the only monster in the world? Mr. Tepes, you’ve become part of a bigger monsterverse. You just don’t know it yet.”

  • Beowulf

    Is this site becoming “Bizzaro World” where everything is backward? Okay, I’m currently in the position of the haters who haven’t seen a movie (in this case DRACUla) but just KNOW that it’s bad. But…but….

    I’ve seen the previews, I’ve read reviews, I’ve checked out behind-the-scenes interviews, and nothing suggests this is at all good.
    I have to believe that the past several months are a gigantic goof, or perhaps a “long con,” and eventually MA will pull off the mask and say, “Just Kidding!!”
    Yes, I know its her opinion (that’s why we come here to see what she thinks, whether or not it remotely connects to our thoughts on a film), but holy jumpin’ jaysass MA sure seems to love the unlovable and dislike the likeable.
    Love the site, am a financial supporter who will always keep coming, but, phew…. I’se one puzzled puddy cat.

  • Overflight

    “Let me tell you about the Monster Squad Initiative”

  • Danielm80

    I never read the reviews because I agree with them. I’m almost positive–having read the book–that I’m going to disagree with most of the things MaryAnn said about Gone Girl. But the movie will be much more interesting when I do see it, and in the meantime, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way movies represent women, and how many people instinctively distrust what women have to say about their own lives and experiences.

  • Bluejay

    Yes, I know its her opinion (that’s why we come here to see what she thinks, whether or not it remotely connects to our thoughts on a film)


  • RogerBW

    OK. My usually-reliable Bad Film Barometer friend is excited about this, almost always a bad sign, but after this review I’ll give it a look anyway

  • Beowulf

    We have a woman friend who is smart and nice and kind, and who loves everything we dislike–like Adam Sandler movies. She doesn’t miss one if she can help it.

  • Beowulf

    I’m not complaining, I’m observing. I like MA and her site a lot; it’d just that we used to be a lot closer in our likes and dislikes. It’s like a jazz-appreciating friend suddenly putting on polka music every time you come over to see her. You still like her/him but want to have his or her drink tested.

  • Bluejay

    You sure you’re not just noticing a few disagreements? Of all the movies she’s reviewed this year and last year, how many have you seen that you really disagree on?

    Not saying you’re wrong, just wondering if you’ve done due diligence. :-) I disagree pretty profoundly with MAJ on a few films and TV shows (some pretty recently), and agree fully with her on others. Pretty much par for the course for me.

  • Brandon

    Just found your site looking for reviews for this one. Your review left me excited. I have been wanting to see this one since the first trailer released.

  • Sam

    Saw this movie in IMAX tonight…was in Transylvania in 2010 and studied up about Vlad, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. So with Mary Ann’s green light…went to this movie and was not disappointed. Agree that Luke Evans was great. Also film does have superhero feel to it and for me, I much preferred it to any of The Dark Knight Batman films. The movie combines the inspiration for Stoker’s Dracula, Vlad, with the history of the time. A movie I watched prior to Romania trip was Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula and it got me up to speed before the trip. This movie different but powerful…I missed those amazing Carpathian Alps too!

  • TheWatcherProductionsStudio

    dracula was sitting in throne in WALLACHIA not Transilvania…

  • Sam

    Vlad was, yes. Dracula is a fictionalized character of Stoker’s. Dracula never sat on any throne.
    This film combines both viewpoints and does it well. So, it
    can be Transylvania and works just fine. In Stoker’s book,
    Dracula is in Transylvania. Stoker’s novel even made Transylvania

  • Sam

    In talking about Gone Girl with others who have seen it, it has been bothersome that most see Nick as a “relliable narrator” yet they don’t see Amy as a reliable narrator. Actually neither are reliable narrators which is one of the film’s problems. But the fact that if Nick says it, it is “accepted as legit” and if Amy says it, “it is accepted as a lie”—yeah, that truly is messed up.

  • My wife and I saw this on Monday. This turned out to be decently entertaining. I would not call it a
    “good” movie by any regular definition, but I still liked it anyway. The
    key is that I know the difference.
    Luke Evans makes a great
    Dracula. He looks the part, and has great presence. I give him full
    props for going all out with a role that some would phone in.
    The movie looks really good, which I find to be less and less of an issue nowadays, even with lower budget movies.
    The story
    really does show a side of him we rarely see. I think they went a tad
    overboard with it, though. We are supposed to see him as some heroic
    figure here, sacrificing everything for his family, and his people. It
    felt very un-Dracula-like.
    There were some story issues, too, but nothing that really bothered so much that I can remember it now.
    Overall, it kind of reminded me more of the Castlevania series of games than any Dracula movie of the past. This is not a positive or negative, just an observation.

  • TheWatcherProductionsStudio

    this movie wanted to be partial historical accurate and it wasnt…but transylvania is part of Romania so..it works :)

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