I remember this film got quite a bit of buzz when it came out - Luke Evans is an ever-popular actor, but it had cannily been announced around the same time as the second Hobbit film hit our screens, meaning that his popularity was even higher than usual. Add to that that it looked like good, silly fantasy fun with an ever popular character (and intriguing historical figure, as the film is keen to mishmash history and vampire lore together haphazardly), and it was all set to be a pretty popular film.
A very nice trailer with Lorde's chilling cover of 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' only added fuel to that particular fire.
It was a buzz that didn't translate into ticket sales, and while the film did moderately well - enough so that there's talk of a sequel, although I don't think it needs one - it wasn't the blockbuster success that I think either its creators or its fans wanted it to be.
Set in medieval Transylvania, the film follows Prince Vlad Dracul, formerly a royal hostage of the Ottoman Empire and an exceptionally vicious soldier known as Lord Impaler (which sounds like either an anime character or a gay porn star), now the ruler of a country.
When Vlad's adopted brother and sultan of the Empire, Mehmed, comes seeking child conscripts for his army and Vlad's son as a hostage, Vlad makes a Faustian bargain with a mysterious and dangerous creature trapped in a cave: The creature will turn Vlad into a vampire with the power to single-handedly defend his country, and if he can last three days without drinking blood, he will become human again. If he can't, then he will be a vampire forever, and the creature - an immeasurably old Master Vampire - will be freed from the cave.
|What ridiculous armour.|
There is some skeeviness with the story being about a very overtly Christian (and white) group of people fighting a Muslim, Middle Eastern nation, especially since the Turks in the film are to a man cartoonishly evil - although the film tries to mitigate this by never bringing the Turks' religion into it. Also, of course, the Ottoman Empire under Mehmed II were the historical Vlad the Impalers' enemies, so there is that.
Mehmed isn't really the villain of this film, though - he is, if anything, a catalyst. Instead, the villain is the Master Vampire, played superbly by Charles Dance. Although he gets maybe ten or fifteen minutes of screentime, he creates a big impression, being a devil-esque tempter with one of the most intriguing backstories of the cast (who imprisoned him in that cave? Why? He only makes reference towards his 'great enemy'), and the constant flickers back to him create the sense that he's constantly watching and waiting. The moment when he escapes, stepping out of the cave while his rotting skin heals, is one of the most dramatic and terrifying in the film, despite the fact that we've never really seen what makes him so dangerous - instead, that sense of danger is established entirely through dialogue, both well-written and well-acted.
Really, it's his deal with Vlad that really should drive the plot. As it is, Vlad never really struggles with a need for blood, and never really succumbs - when he drinks, it's for entirely noble reasons after somebody asked him to, rather than because of human failing, which is where this film fails as a tragedy.
|Bro, have you never heard of moisturiser, bro.|
Which is a shame, because the Shakespearian-tragedy angle was an angle this film could have played very well - certainly better than the action film angle, which kind of feels lifeless when your protagonist is an unstoppable juggernaut who can single-handedly take down armies. The film has several action scenes, and apart from the first one after Vlad becomes a vampire, which is short, sweet and gives us a nice view of his new powers, they are by and large not that interesting. One doesn't even make sense, such as when he shapes bats into shapes which he uses to bludgeon the army, despite the fact that that should be quite impossible.
|Mirena, Vlad's wife, gets a fairly hefty part in the film, which is good, else the whole|
Mina obsession would feel very forced indeed.
But, while this film isn't all that it could have been, it was fun - Vlad's relationship with his wife and son was very touching, and it had some absolute cracking moments, like Vlad's confrontation and dealings with the Master Vampire. There's a timeskip at the end to Vlad meeting Mina Harker while the Master Vampire watches from afar, hinting at a sequel, but I hold that this film works better as a standalone, rather than trying to do a sequel that would almost certainly fall flat.
Also, why is he meeting Mina in the twenty-first century? C'mon, guys. C'mon.