Universal’s “Dracula Untold” brings the old undead nobleman back to life, this time re-envisioning him as a kind of dark superhero, complete with origin story and eternal nemesis.
Well, who asked them?
True, having sucked as much life from their classic monsters as possible, the studio would obviously like to revive the lot, spinning out the requisite new trilogies. (“Dracula Untold” ends, of course, unconcluded.)
But Dracula is not the original Batman.
He is his own monster, made up of scraps of Romanian history and Bram Stoker’s very Victorian fears of female lust, venereal disease and oily foreign seducers.
To its credit, “Dracula Untold” finds something new to do with the Dracula story. It mixes the vampire element with some of the true history of Vlad the Impaler, who in this movie is a really nice guy saddled with an unfortunate nickname. For that reason, when he meets a woman here, he just says, “I’m Vlad” and leaves off the other part, because the name is a distraction in forging relationships.
Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), here as in history, was a 15th century Transylvanian prince who found himself in conflict with the Turks, the dominant power in the region. The film is particularly and most genuinely effective in the early scenes, in which Vlad faces a horrible choice: He either can lead his people to annihilation by fighting an uphill battle against the Turks, or he can give into the cruel Sultan (Dominic Cooper) and turn over 1,000 Transylvanian boys, including his son, to be made into Turkish soldiers.
So here we have a vampire movie that brings together elements from other more popular movies. As in the “Twilight” series, we have a fellow who can’t get sexually aroused, at least not without wanting to rip open someone’s neck. As in the “Lord of the Rings” series, we have a man dabbling in absolute power, while trying to avoid ultimate corruption. And as in “The Lost Weekend” (1945), starring Ray Milland, we have an addict trying to white-knuckle it through a very long three days.
This is clever — not inspired, but OK. Inevitably, of course, a vampire movie must be a vampire movie, and so this one ultimately succumbs to genre, with enough red blood on white fangs to make its quota. Still, “Dracula Untold” is better than you might expect.