For a tantalizing half hour or so, it actually seemed like the underlying idea of “Dracula Untold” — an origin story drawing its DNA from superhero flicks, not monster movies — might go somewhere. Unfortunately, in its search for fresh blood to rejuvenate the desiccated corpse of Bram Stoker’s hero, long since drained of narrative power, it goes places it shouldn’t.
The film’s problems aren’t limited to liberal cadging from comic books. In fact, that’s precisely what’s best about the film, which occasionally boasts gorgeous visuals. But the movie doesn’t know when to stop stealing. Its Prince Vlad — played by Luke Evans as an honorable 15th-century Balkan crimefighter who acquires superhuman abilities, and a thirst for blood, after an encounter with a ghoul in a cave — evokes, at various times, Spider-Man, Superman, the Hulk and other freaks, as he adjusts to his gifts. “Sometimes what the world needs is no longer a hero,” says Vlad, as he prepares to open a can of whup-ass on the evil Turks who have invaded his homeland. “Sometimes what it needs is a monster.”
That’s not a bad line, courtesy of writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. But the film doesn’t restrict its borrowing to a single genre. It also owes a heavy stylistic debt, both visually and thematically, to “300,” “Twilight” and “Game of Thrones.” (Two of its actors, Charles Dance and Art Parkinson, have recurring roles on that television show.)
But there are other, even more incongruous touches, especially among the movie’s villains. One Turkish soldier with beautiful blond braids looks like a cross between Charlie Hunnam from “Sons of Anarchy” and the bassist from a Swedish metal band. And the marauders’ leader, played by Dominic Cooper with an indeterminate, globetrotting accent, sports what my screening companion Jenny called a “boy-band” fade. Then there’s the word “okay,” which gets uttered, by various characters, not once, but three times.
In 15th-century Romania. Okaaay.
Deeper questions of logic arise from the film’s handling of established vampire lore. Although the film’s bloodsuckers prove sensitive to silver, daylight and crucifixes, it isn’t clear exactly what effect the metal has on Vlad, other than as a kind of low-grade kryptonite. Sure, it appears to weaken him, but not terribly. And where does his ability come from to control both weather and bats, the latter of which make up the film’s silliest special effect? At one point, our hero summons a 50,000-ton batcloud from the sky, pummeling a phalanx of Turks like a giant, flying fist made of flapping wings.
That said, the film isn’t awful. There are moments of handsome cinematography and occasional effects that both frighten and impress.
The takeaway: We might have to get used to the newfangled bloodsucker-with-a-heart-of-gold, who takes on the name Dracula only near the end of the film, which concludes with a groaningly obvious sequel set-up. Universal Pictures, which made the movie, recently announced plans to reboot its entire back catalogue of classic monster movies. Get ready for “Creature From the Black Lagoon Untold.”
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains violence, scary sequences and brief sensuality. 92 minutes.