Film Review: Dracula Untold

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 14 October 2014.

The fundamental problem with this film from first time feature director Gary Shore is that for a tale about blood drinking creatures of the night, there is surprisingly little of the red stuff.

In a kiddie friendly reinterpretation of the Dracula origins story, Luke Evans (Fast & Furious 6, The Three Musketeers) stars as Vlad the Impaler. Sent as a child to the Turks to be a soldier, he gained a reputation as a fierce warrior (thus the nickname) and has now returned to his home of Transylvania to rule as a peace loving King (as you do).

The evil Turks now return demanding a new delivery of child soldiers (including the young prince) and desperate to save his people, Vlad sells his soul for three days to the Vampire King (a hammy Charles Dance). With the powers (and weaknesses) of a vampire, Vlad, now Dracula, must vanquish his enemies before he succumbs to “the thirst” which will render him a bloodsucker forever.

With the recent melee surrounding Ridley Scott’s upcoming epic Exodus: Gods and Kings and its controversial casting of a tanned Aussie Joel Edgerton as Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses, it is interesting that not a peep has been heard from the internet regarding Dracula Untold’s Turk leader Mehmed being played by the usually pasty UK actor Dominic Cooper. Imagine the furore when it is revealed that Welshman Luke Evans is also not actually a vampire. You’ve read it here first, folks.

Dracula Untold has plot holes to drive a truck through. Why would the Turks sacrifice hordes of soldiers in battle for a measly thousand child soldiers? The evil Mehmed seems to immediately recognise the need to use silver and wooden stakes against Vlad. How does he know this? Why would you pursue a child army when a vampire army would be potentially unstoppable? Why do the Transylvanians not become suspicious immediately after Vlad wipes out an army on his own?

Typical to this sort of film, most of the the action takes place in the dark, and I really had problems seeing what was happening, which is unusual for a 2D feature. I can say that I have seen Dracula Untold, but I can’t say that I saw Dracula Untold, if you catch my drift.

I’m not entirely sure why this film even has the word “Dracula” in its title. The characterisation and origins of this lead character were completely out of synch with my expectations. Sure, this is a reinterpretation but there has to be at least some tropes of a traditional fangastical Dracula tale to deserve the name.

It has been announced that Dracula Untold will be the first in a series of reboots to the Universal Monsters franchise. Let’s hope that the rumoured next in line, The Mummy, fares better than this pointless feature.

Dracula Untold typically ends with a strong hint that a sequel is in the work. Let’s hope not. This Dracula story should have remained untold.

Published in: on October 19, 2014 at 12:42  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: Godzilla

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 20th May 2014.

Director Gareth Edwards made his feature film debut with the highly enjoyable Monsters in 2010. A low budget sci-fi thriller set after an alien invasion, the film follows a journalist who accompanies an American tourist through the Mexican quarantine zone to safety. Edwards proved he was a writer-director to watch by managing to keep the human story at the centre of our attention amongst an array of skirmishes between the military and CGI creatures. I couldn’t wait to see what he would do next.

Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. obviously felt the same way and handed Edwards the reigns to the $160 million reboot of the Godzilla franchise for his second movie. No pressure there then.

The good news is that Edwards has delivered a solid creature feature. The bad news is that there is little else to report. It’s a Godzilla film.

Just like the recent Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of Electro, where the titular villain is strangely only a supporting character, Godzilla is not really the star of his own movie. Like many of the big name actors in the cast, the King of Monsters has little to do in the storyline.

Much of the first half of the plot is dedicated to the emergence of the MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), giant praying mantis type monsters which feeds on radiation.

On the human side of the plot, nuclear plant supervisor Joe Brody (Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston) is still mourning the loss of his wife (a wasted Juliette Binoche) fifteen years previously in a meltdown precipitated by an “earthquake”, actually the hatching of a MUTO. Whilst investigating in Japan, he is arrested in the radioactive quarantine area, which prompts his son, army explosive ordinance disposal officer Ford (Kick-Ass’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson), to come to the rescue.

When the male and female MUTO begin a destructive path across the globe to come together and mate, Godzilla arises from the depths of the ocean to reaffirm his position as the alpha predator of our planet. Destruction and chaos ensues, in 3D.

If fighting giant monsters are your bag, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim did it so much better. Godzilla’s monster showdowns all seem to take place at night, and combined with the light loss from the 3D glasses, I left the cinema still wanting to have seen more of the battles.

Edwards certainly assembled an all star cast and I was looking forward to seeing the ensemble in a blockbuster popcorn picture. Unfortunately, there is simply not enough of Cranston or Elizabeth Olson, in the thankless role of Ford’s wife. Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins play scientists who conveniently pop up whenever we require exposition. At least Watanabe gets to do the trademark turn to camera and mutter, “Godzirra.”

Godzilla may already have me his match in the plethora of superior CGI filled monster, alien and superhero films on the market.