Before Bruce Wayne, Dracula was the first ever Batman. If only Luke Evans could pull off a gravelly voice.

Luke Evans as Vlad the Impaler/Dracula
Dominic Cooper as Sultan Mehmed II
Sarah Gadon as Mirena/Mina
Charles Dance as Master Vampire
with Art Parkinson as Ingeras

It’s hard to write about Dracula movies, because the vampire genre in Hollywood has been absolutely mutilated by the Twatlight series. So much so that watching the trailers for Dracula Untold brings up the same amount of cynicism one holds for that elusive animal; the honest politician. But here’s the thing, Dracula Untold is surprisingly one of the best “not bad” movies of 2014.

It’s probably no secret that the titular character in Bram Stoker’s boring “classic” is based on Vlad the Impaler, who lived and ruled over Transylvania many centuries ago and was a vassal of the Turkish Empire, which at the time was one of the most powerful nations in the region. This movie takes elements of that conflict and brings it all together as an origins story for Dracula as a vampire.

Vlad’s got a good life going for him, a kingdom whose people love and respect his rule, a beautiful wife and healthy son. All that becomes undone when he discovers Turkish scouts have been conducting recon around his kingdom. As he investigates, he discovers an ancient vampire lurks in a mountain. While the vampire is not much of a threat, Sultan Mehmed’s enormous army is, since Transylvania lacks a large army enough army of its own to repel the invasion.

He tries diplomacy to appease Mehmed, but given the choice of surrendering his son to Mehmed, along with 1,000 other boys for his army, he chooses to fight. He seeks the help of the ancient vampire in the mountains and is given three days of vampiric superpowers with which to stop the Turkish invasion. On the other hand, if he drinks human blood within those three days, he will remain a vampire permanently. Resisting the urge to feast on human blood doesn’t sound like a difficult thing to do to Vlad, so he sets off to try to save his kingdom.

As vampire movies go, this is a much more action oriented one, complete with tonnes of spectacular computer graphics, a terrible storyline and lots of shouting. Luke Evans actually makes for a decent Dracula, the characterisation that he’s a good man who chooses an extreme personal sacrifice, in order to save his family and people.

I just wish the story wasn’t so fatuously stupid. Just before the final Boss Fight (Vlad vs Mehmed), the Turkish army is about to storm Vlad’s stronghold in the mountains. Instead of utilising his insane vampire powers and annihilating the Turkish army while it marches through the night, he actually lets them come right to him when he’s only got a few hours of vampire-ness left. Considering he can fly pretty damn fast, and knows where the army is, this is the most stupid strategy I’ve ever seen.

Also, the other major flaw with the movie is the complete and utter underuse of the awesome Charles Dance. He only appears in a couple of scenes and snippets here and there, as a brooding, patient and malevolent presence whose ultimate goals are not revealed. I know that this movie is a reboot and testing ground of sorts for a menagerie of classic monster (and monster related) characters to build a new universe that rivals Marvel’s superhero movies. Good luck with that, because if you have a movie with Charles Dance in it, you’d better make his role important…

Truth be told, Dracula Untold (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist) isn’t really that bad. Neither is it really that good. As an origins story, it could have had more oomph, chutzpah, whatever you want to call it. As a movie, it needed more story and less stupid military strategy. As an action movie, it definitely could have used more action, and as a movie about vampires, it wasn’t really all that vampiric. However, like that other dumb action movie this year, Pompeii, it satisfies every expectation. I suppose you can’t fault the movie for that.

Rating

As mediocre as mediocre can be. Still, it’s not as terrible as some other movies out this year.

Watch this if you…

Can’t be bothered using Wikipedia to search for the basis of Dracula, or his true origins. Although you still have to after watching this movie, because it’s not really all that accurate.

Don’t watch it this week if you…

Expect Charles Dance to actually do something in the movie. Or if you were expecting a horror movie. This is definitely not that kind of film.

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