Review: Dracula Untold

Dracula Untold is a retelling of the story of Vlad the Impaler. The film attempts to humanise him, as he takes the powers of a blood sucking monster in order to protect his family and kingdom from the tyranny of the sultan, Mehmed.

While the traditional Dracula is infamous among the horror genre, Dracula Untold casts a completely new light on the character, not only making him seem sympathetic, but also into some sort of action hero. It’s an understandable concept – taking the powers of Dracula and transforming them into superhuman powers used in the battle for justice. However, that was the only interesting factor in this movie. Besides this, Dracula Untold was almost completely bland and had very little in it to keep me entertained.

For one, the plot is very simple (if not a little disjointed) – it’s a really original conception of Dracula, with the conflict between Turkey and Transylvania acting as a motivation for the main character Vlad (Luke Evans) to seek out the Master Vampire and gain his powers. From there on out, everything is fairly predictable: Vlad fights most of Turkey’s armies single-handedly and eventually goes after the sultan (Dominic Cooper). While it seemed that Luke Evans tried to capture the character of Vlad as a tortured hero, the character simply wasn’t well written. There was very little about Vlad’s character which seemed compelling or interesting – he was just the prince of a kingdom who gained Dracula’s powers in order to protect his people, and besides that, he had no internal conflict. Dominic Cooper, on the other hand, did not try to develop his character at all. In many of his other films (History Boys, Starter For Ten) and he has been more entertaining and more interesting as an actor, but in this film, he seems to just be ‘evil sultan’. HHHHHhisfhsaa

Furthermore, I found the direction of the film was lazy. It lacked any original style. Dracula Untold felt like any other film, set in some distant past where all the good guys have a posh British accent and the villains all have some kind of ‘foreign-sounding’ accent, with no relevance to the film’s setting. Of course, as a Dracula film, it is ‘dark’, but even before he gains his powers, there was always a cloudy sky, and all colours were swapped for black or grey in a desperate attempt to make this film seem ‘gritty.’ For a film which is trying to take a new direction with the Dracula story, it certainly didn’t try anything which we haven’t seen before. This could be because the director, Gary Shore, appears to be very inexperienced. When Universal hired Tod Browning to direct the original Dracula, they had a director who was very experienced in the horror genre, so it seems strange that someone with such little experience with action films was chosen to reimagine Dracula as an action superhero. Action may even seem like a strange route to take with this take, but seems to be quite predictable in Hollywood today…

The Cinematic Universe

The monumental success of The Avengers in 2012 impacted the movie industry in a big way. For starters, the majority of the general public have seen a great increase in the popularity of super hero in the past two years, but this isn’t the only trend to be brought about by the culmination of four years of movies produced by Marvel Studios. The box office success of The Avengers (grossing over $1 billion) also inspired other studios to try to bring their franchises together in order to compete with the Marvel cinematic universe which is now in the hands of Walt Disney Studios.

With the recent announcement of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it is clear that DC comics are also trying to merge the worlds of their most successful franchises by throwing Batman (played by Ben Affleck) into the world of the Man of Steel (2013). Twentieth Century Fox have also combined their X-Men universes with the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and Sony Pictures Entertainment have also been in talks to create a Sinister Six movie which is speculated to see The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) team up with some of his greatest foes in order to defeat a greater evil. However these plans began after most of the production of the second film, which meant that director Marc Webb was required to reshoot some scenes so that the story could later be tied into the planned sequel.

The Future for the Universal Monster Franchise

But what does this any of this have to do with Dracula Untold? Well, Marvel weren’t the first studio to create a cinematic universe. Universal Studios were merging their most successful horror franchises (including Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Wolf-Man), and now, 83 years after the release of the first Dracula movie, we have a reboot of the franchise which hopes to shed a new light on the character of Dracula. This could have been a grandly inspired idea, aiming to introduce these characters to a new generation, as well as exploring the characters in new and innovative ways, as many remakes, reboots and sequels have done before. However, as has been stated, this film was hardly the original Dracula and, beyond this, there is even greater cause for concern for Universal Studios.

The development of Dracula Untold has been through some changes since pre-production. In a similar turn of fate as The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the film was not originally planned to tie into a cinematic universe – or, for that matter, even to have a sequel. In fact it wasn’t announced until after production that Dracula Untold might tie into the reboot Universal Monsters franchise, and so some scenes were rewritten to tie the film in to the other franchises such as The Mummy, which was originally planned to kick off the rebooted universe in 2016. All this goes to show that Universal Studios don’t have a formulated structure for this reboot, which is cause for embarrassment. If anything, Dracula Untold has revealed Universal Studio’s flimsy attempt to follow the trend of having a cinematic universe. If the Universal Monster movies continue to make things up as they go along, they are putting themselves at risk of financial decline, which has been experienced by Sony Pictures Entertainment from their Spider-Man franchise, in which each film has grossed less than the previous.

If the Universal Monster franchise is to continue to develop into a cinematic universe which recreates the success of The Avengers, or even just the original Universal horror movies, the studio will have to ensure the upcoming Mummy movie is better received by the general public and critics alike. This is entirely possible if improve the quality of actors, as well as ensuring they have a better creative team working with the director to give this next instalment the form and style which Dracula Untold was missing. Or else the scariest part of this endeavour will be their profit margins.

SAM PACKER

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