Dracula Untold should’ve stayed that way. There. I got the obvious out of my system — but its obviousness doesn’t keep it from being true. Essentially, it’s just another dumb comic book movie, but with — you know — Dracula. And it would be negligible, except for the fact that there’s a chance that this thing might be popular enough to convince Universal to jump into their purported idea of bringing back their classic monsters in a new series of movies. The difference here will be — if someone doesn’t drive a stake in the thing PDQ — that instead of bringing the various creatures together out of desperation — a la Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), etc. — it will be planned from the onset. In other words, it’s Marvel’s The Avengers, but with monsters. (Apparently, 2004’s Van Helsing taught them nothing.) Dracula has been many things over the years — the scarcely human Max Schreck (1922’s Nosferatu), the Valentino-esque seducer Bela Lugosi (1931’s Dracula), the vaguely Byronic Christopher Lee (1958’s Horror of Dracula), the Eurotrash Udo Kier (1974’s Blood for Dracula), the blow-dry Frank Langella (1979’s Dracula), the cool Victorian romantic Gary Oldman (1992’s Dracula). Now we get buff gym-rat antihero Luke Evans. Oh ho and oh hum.
The whole Dracula with an origin story — involving that old laugh-a-minute Vlad the Impaler — isn’t new. It’s been touched on and fiddled with before, but that was before the concept of the origin story had entered the public consciousness. And really, did the lack of such a story hurt Messrs. Schreck, Lugosi, or Lee? They just were — and their images remain the ones that most people retain to this day. I seriously doubt that Mr. Evans — who I have liked in other movies — poses any threat to their status. Truthfully, this Dracula isn’t likely to be as remembered as Lon Chaney Jr.’s corn-fed count in Son of Dracula (1943) or John Carradine’s seedy stage magician take in House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula (1945), or even — God save us — Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1964).
Part of what’s wrong here is that it’s yet another whitewash-the-villain yarn. Oh, sure, old Vlad put thousands of folks to the stake, but, hey, he was only being a good ruler, keeping those nasty (non-Christian) Turks at bay. So there. Taking it a step further, he only becomes the supernatural monster of legend (and Bram Stoker) in order to stop — yep — those nasty Turks once again. To do this he visits the Master Vampire (a pleasingly campy Charles Dance) and makes a bad bargain that gives him all the supernatural powers of a vampire for a limited time — as long as he resists the desire to drink blood. If he drinks blood, he becomes permanently afflicted. Any bets on how that works out? I didn’t think so.
Mostly, what we get out of this is an orgy of CGI bat and battle stuff — all of which is remarkably bloodless to hold tight to that PG-13 rating. It’s all pretty tepid and mostly cartoonish. Some of it, however, is pretty amusing — especially Dominic Cooper as the villainous Turk Mehmed. Sporting a singularly strange hairdo (there must have been a Vidal Sassoon salon in ancient Turkey) and affecting an accent that sounds like a cross between Russian and comic oh-my-goodness-gosh Indian, West is nothing if not preposterous. He’s also pretty entertaining — in ways I do not think were intended. Overall, it’s just plain not very good, though I freely concede that it seemed much shorter than Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, despite being about 15 minutes longer. I guess that’s something, though we’re talking relative levels of mediocrity. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of warfare, vampire attacks, disturbing images and some sensuality.