Thursday, January 29, 2015

In short: Dracula Untold (2014)

Unlike a lot of people, I have no trouble at all with Sony turning the Universal version of Dracula into a fantasy adventure thingum instead of gothic horror. The original movies, or the Hammer films, and so on, aren’t going anywhere after all, and some of those weren’t any good anyway, so there’s always room for doing the classic monsters differently. Plus, it’s not as if people would suddenly stop making other vampire, werewolf, etc movies, so I don’t see the harm in this, or in Sony’s project of turning the classic monsters into a dark(ish) fantasy action movie universe. Of course, going by the actual results until now, the project has a snowball’s chance in hell to be as successful – commercially or artistically – as Marvel’s output is right now, what with the bunch of non-entity directors making them (Gary Shore, anyone?), and the scripts that never get interesting enough to even be called bad.

Consequently, for me Dracula Untold’s problem isn’t that it’s a mainstream blockbuster film instead of gothic horror movie but that it’s a deeply mediocre mainstream blockbuster film that shows no feeling at all for the possibilities for Dracula as a dark(ish) action hero with bat based super powers (call him Emo Batman, and you’re done), only seldom shows much of an idea about how to do spectacle well (okay, there’s the scene where Dracs casts Summon Bat Swarm on the whole Turkish army, and I find the whole “vampires are made out of bat swarms” angle amusing), and hits the expected plot beats without any conviction, aiming for gravitas but never actually doing the work for earning it.

Too little about the film’s world is fleshed out: we learn a few things because characters exposit them but the film hits that sour spot where the things we actually get to see are neither believable enough nor interesting enough to make one willing to buy into their reality as parts of the world of the film they occur in. Worse, these elements are frequently not just dumb but also terribly dull. I am – for example - sure it would have helped the general excitement levels if the armies involved in various battles would either have used believable tactics (or any tactics at all, really) or tactics that would have been fun to watch. Instead, anything anyone does here – be it in war or in peace – generally feels designed to get the film from one plot beat to the next. Alas, plot beats do not a story make, and a mediocre blockbuster is as little worth watching as is a truly bad one. Though kudos to the film being not as bad as Michael Bay’s Ninja Turtles.

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