Prince Vlad (Luke Evans) of the Eastern Europe of centuries ago gained a reputation as a powerful leader of his country, and a habit of impaling hundreds, nay thousands of his enemies as a warning to anyone who would stand against him. But for the present there is peace until the leader of the Turks, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper) gives him an ultimatum: he must hand over a thousand boys to be trained as soldiers just as Vlad was, and include among that number his own son Ingeras (Art Parkinson). He is horrified at the demand, but doesn't see what he can do in the face of the powerful Ottoman Empire as another war would be devastating... that is until he recalls his recent meeting in a cave with a very powerful entity.
You know that bit at the start of Francis Ford Coppola's nineties hit Bram Stoker's Dracula? Imagine that stretched out to feature length and you had some idea of what Dracula Untold was like, taking the supposition author Bram Stoker had based his famed bloodsucking Count on the Romanian hero Vlad Tepes, a ruler who was as notorious for his brutality as he was his bravery in keeping the Turks at bay. There was hardly any evidence Stoker had been reading up on his Eastern European history before penning his book further than adapting the Vlad Dracul moniker, but it has been an idea that has stuck, and the Transylvanian tourist authority wouldn't have it any other way as it brings in sightseers from all four corners of the globe.
That said, it did appear rather redundant to base yet another origin story on a loose understanding of history when there were so many other, more inventive things you could do with the character - even Hammer's last effort The Satanic Rites of Dracula offered a new twist on the old tale, something that barely anyone else took their cue from aside from Kim Newman's Anno Dracula novels that revelled in the possibilities which went utterly unexplored here. Nope, what you had here was Universal trying to reboot its vintage horror franchises by clearing its throat with a Dracula revival, not by tearing the stake out of his corpse but by noting the popularity of both Marvel superheroes in the cinema and bloody fantasy soap opera Game of Thrones on television.
The latter even extended to casting a few of the Thrones actors, and lending a very George R.R. Martin air to the proceedings, only somehow not as compelling, with the addition of Coppola's romance (Sarah Gadon played the missus in peril) and vampirism seen through the prism of superpowers lending a bombastic but unengaging aspect to the story, more an excuse to add in the bats-heavy special effects sequences. Those effects would have been all very well if their lead character had not suffered an aversion to daylight, which meant most of this took place in a crepuscular gloom, yet not quite pitch darkness illuminated as the moon appeared from behind the clouds, that would actually lend the film a spooky atmosphere it was reluctant to embrace, as much of this was coloured in dark blues and greys.
Maybe they were harking back to the black and white Tod Browning original in their choice of palette, or maybe director Gary Shore had spent too long toiling in the music video market, but either way there was very little splendour to the gunmetal skies, bleak landscapes and occasional flocks of bats overrunning all and sundry. Keeping with the superhero template, this mounted an origin yarn that had a vampire Charles Dance in that cave passing on his curse/blessing to Vlad so he can defeat the Turks once again, but the catch is he must do so in three days and then revert back to being human once again. Quite why this is the case is unclear, but by this stage in vampire lore it seemed everyone using the conventions were happy to make up their own caveats and rules as they went along, so you couldn't begrudge the screenplay that. What you could begrudge was trying to turn the Dracula tale into a Braveheart reboot as well, so there was far too much hoarse shouting at legions of soldiers, all approached with an deadening sense of self-importance. Music by Ramin Djawadi.