If Universal is building a new Marvel-style multi-film-universe for monsters, then it’s a little bit of a bummer that there’s no unifying Nick Fury character waltzing out from the shadows, slow-clapping, to commend the latest Dracula on the excellent use of his vampire powers. I waited and hoped for such a post-credits sequence in Dracula Untold, but it never came.
This doesn’t mean the movie was bad, because if turning Dracula into a superhero is something that sounds cool to you, then this movie totally nails it.
Spoilers for Dracula Untold
There’s something a little old-fashioned about the pacing and essential motivations of Dracula Untold. In a cinematic age where even the most straight-forward blockbusters require flowcharts (seriously, which infinity stones are where in which Marvel movie?) it’s nice to watch something where the magic and the stakes (yep, pun intended) are totally clear.
Loosely basing this Dracula on the historical 15th century Transylvanian Prince Vlad the Impaler, Dracula Untold initially presents itself like general prequel to the idea of Dracula. A voice-over from Dracula’s son tells you that this is the story of how his dad became Dracula. All tension concerning whether or not Dracula’s son survives the movie is totally lost right there, unless he’s a ghost-narrator. Vlad himself is played by Luke Evans, who you probably know best as “that dude who is in The Hobbit and one of the Fast and Furious movies.” The thing is, he’s sort of great in this role. Vlad was a guy who did terrible things while going-full impaler during his battle against the Turks, but now just wants peace in his kingdom. It’s like if Anakin Skywalker had killed all the Jedi, and then tried to bring actual peace to the galaxy. It’s both sympathetic and creepy.
In fact, in the pantheon of “dark heroes” like Anakin Skwyalker or Bruce Wayne, Luke Evans’s Vlad/Dracula makes you pine for this kind of tonal balance in either a Star Wars or Batman movie. It’s not super complicated or overly psychological, it’s just that Vlad is very desperate. Note: this isn’t the same as pathetic. When Vlad meets The Vampire Who Lives in a Cave (Charles Dance), he talks about how being a “monster” means you don’t have to feel anything about the tons of people you kill. He is able to justify his actions, he reasons, because Vlad the Impaler was seen as “monster,” so people feared him, and that fear saved other people. The plot of Dracula Untold shows us what would happen if you decide to up your monster game from being a metaphor to becoming a fact of your life.
We all know the basic powers of vampires; sometimes shape shifting, occasionally flight, invisibility, hypnotism, and long teeth. Here though, vampire powers also include Hulk-smash levels of super-strength, and the ability to turn a flock of bats into a giant fist. If you like this kind of thing at all, you’ll realize Vlad/Dracula in Dracula Untold has the best vampire powers of any vampire, possibly ever. He’s like a 15h century combo of Storm from the X-Men and John Carter. He can also see in the dark like Predator, and he’s got abs straight from Equinox gym. But the strength of this movie isn’t in Vlad’s super-powers, it’s in the simplicity of the way the movie unfolds.
In a nutshell, the driving plot of the movie is this: the Turks are going to take 1000 boys and enslave them, so Prince Vlad decides to get some Vampire powers to combat the giant army heading his way. The deal he makes with The Vampire Who Lives in a Cave is that he’ll have the power for three days, but if he drinks human blood even ONCE, even if the person is already dead, he’ll be a vampire forever. The tension and conflict of the movie is fairly easy to follow and awesome to get into: turn to the Dark Side of the Force for a long weekend and you’ll be able to save your entire family and kingdom.
Naturally, it all goes wrong, and after the loss of his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) Vlad decides to start making some of his fallen comrades into a vampire army, which is a great idea, at least in the short term. It would be wrong to say that in doing this, Vlad creates a Frankenstein monster in the form of his vampire army, but I just made the comparison anyway, so whatever. Anyway, the bottom line is if you create a vampire army, you can bet they’re going to turn on you. Why the Vampire Who Lives in a Cave never thought to do this isn’t entirely clear, but I guess he was too preoccupied with getting out of the cave.
There’s a neat flash-forward to pseudo-present day at the very end of Dracula Untold, a kind of pre-credits sequence that serves a similar function as a post-credits sequence would in a Marvel-style movie. It’s not the 15th century anymore, but Vlad is still alive and hanging out in the latest suit from GQ while The Vampire Who Lives in a Cave sits and has coffee or something. Vlad meets a woman named Mina and boom, you’re supposed to be excited, I guess, for whatever comes next in this new monster movie series.
And I was excited, and totally satisfied. If Dracula Untold ends up making way for a whole slew of new monster movies like this one, I’ll be fine with that. (And seeing as it shocked everyone by nearly matching Gone Girl at the box office this weekend, that’s entirely possible.) This movie isn’t trying to convince you it’s the best thing ever, nor will it replace any other version of Dracula in your dreams/nightmares. Instead, it told a simple, charmingly silly, and exciting story of what would happen to a prince who thought it was a good idea to borrow some vampire powers for awhile. After it’s over, you’ll want those powers, too.
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com.