Oh, wait, hang on a second. I’m describing Batman, not Dracula like I’m supposed to be. But, after watching Dracula Untold, I think I could be forgiven for mixing them up. You see, I was always under the impression that Dracula was an elegant and aristocratic vampire, a creature of the night who hungered ceaselessly for blood. But, as it turns out, he was actually an action hero who was attempting to be the fantasy equivalent of Batman. No joke, he uses bats for everything.
Dracula Untold is the new (PG-13) origin story of Dracula. After serving as a janissary in the armies of the Ottoman Sultan for many years, Vlad (known as Vlad the Impaler after what he does to slain enemies), returns to his homeland of Transylvania to rule as king, as long as he provides regular tribute to the Sultan. This is all fine and dandy until one day the Ottoman emissary demands one thousand young boys to serve in their armies, including Vlad’s only son. Vlad can’t have that of course, so he slays the emissaries instead. Knowing that his lands will soon be punished for their Prince’s disobedience (because Vlad is for some unknown reason incapable of raising an army), Vlad seeks out the power to defend his kingdom. Conveniently, there’s a vampire living in a nearby cave, and they make a bargain: Vlad gains the power of a vampire for three days, if he can resist drinking blood for that long. If he succumbs to the thirst, he will be cursed to remain undead for all eternity.
As you probably noticed while reading that, this movie has a lot of plot holes. For example, why can’t Vlad raise an army? As a medieval lord, he should be able to call on the peasants to form a force to resist the Ottomans. For another thing, Vlad apparently only rules over a single castle. Either that castle is the only settlement in the entirety of Transylvania, or he leaves the entire population outside the capital to suffer during an enemy invasion without a care or even so much as a bit of reference that they even exist. Finally, the supposedly intelligent and tactical-minded Vlad goes out to fight his enemies without anticipating that soldiers might try to sneak up behind him, and he leaves the royal family without any guards. Although a certain amount of plot holes are tolerable and expected in any film, the ones in Dracula Untold are so big and so numerous that the entire plot could be resolved with another script revision or two.
Dracula himself is a curious case. On the one hand, he preserves many of the traits of the classic vampire, including bloodlust and weakness to sunlight, silver, and holy symbols. This is very refreshing after cinemas’ more recent vampires sparkled in the sunlight. On the other hand, some of his powers are a bit improbable even for a fantasy action movie. The best example of this are the bats. While vampires have traditionally had the ability to control bats, Dracula uses them not as spies or scouts as one might expect, but as a melee weapon. He turns into a swarm of bats and then flies into enemy soldiers to knock them over. Now, science was never my strong suit, but I know enough about physics to know that’s not how either inertia or bats work, unless the Ottomans soldier weigh about 4 pounds. At one point, he even swarms bats into the shape of a giant fist and then smashes it on the ground, killing apparently hundreds of men at once. While I’m sure this was meant to be epic and awesome, it just ends up being hilarious as the supposedly terrifying Ottoman army is expelled from Europe by bats. That one scene in Batman Begins where Batman uses bats against cops is cool because it’s only one scene. Imagine if the entire film was like that, and you have an idea of what this movie is like.
So at the end of the day, Dracula ends up being neither the horror-inducing undead agent he originally was nor the bad-ass action hero he now aspires to be. Instead, he is the star of a mediocre fantasy action movie with a bat fetish. He is the hero that we don’t deserve, we don’t need, and we don’t particularly want. Dracula’s origin story, or at least this version of it, is a story that should have remained untold.