Van Helsing

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Cast:
Hugh Jackman as Van Helsing
Kate Beckinsale as Anna Valerious
Richard Roxburgh as Count Vladislaus Dracula
David Wenham as Carl
Shuler Hensley as Frankenstein’s Monster
Elena Anaya as Aleera
Will Kemp as Velkan
Kevin J. O’Connor as Igor
Alun Armstrong as Cardinal Jinette
Silvia Colloca as Verona
Josie Maran as Marishka
Tom Fisher as Top Hat
Samuel West as Dr. Victor Frankenstein
Robbie Coltrane as Mr. Hyde
Stephen Fisher as Dr. Jekyll

Summary:
If you liked The Mummy Returns, then you’ll probably like Van Helsing. It has a good mix of action, adventure, horror, and romance. But some campy scenes might ruin the movie for some viewers.

Story:
In the late 19th century, Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing is known throughout Europe as an infamous monster killer. He works for the Vatican to quietly eradicate evil creatures, but somehow his violent exploits always end up becoming very public. Though he has no memory of his past, he is highly skilled and dedicated to his mission.

Van Helsing’s latest assignment is to kill Count Vladislaus Dracula, a vampire living in Transylvania. He is to team up with Anna Valerious, the last of a long line of gypsy monster killers dedicated to killing Dracula and his three vampire brides.

When Van Helsing arrives in Transylvania, he finds that he’s facing more than he bargained for. Not only must he and Anna battle Dracula’s brides, but his werewolf servant as well. The two also discover that Dracula has an insidious plan to unleash a new horror upon the world. It just so happens that Frankenstein’s monster, thought destroyed long ago, is the key to making it happen. With Anna and his friar sidekick Carl in tow, Van Helsing heads into battle once again.

Van Helsing is rated PG-13 for nonstop creature action violence and frightening images, and for sensuality.

What Worked:
If you liked Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, then you’re probably going to enjoy Van Helsing. It has the same mixture of action, adventure, horror, humor, effects, romance, and camp that those other films did. Van Helsing is a pure popcorn flick and to look for any more out of it would be a waste of time. It aims to entertain and that’s what it does.

The movie begins with a show-stopping opening that instantly sets the mood and had me hooked. Filmed in black and white, you quickly feel like you’re watching a classic Universal monster movie. The sets, costumes, and characters all scream classic horror movie. Dr. Frankenstein even yells out the old “It’s alive!!!” line. Throw Dracula into the mix and it’s enough to make any horror fan think he’s reached nirvana. The film then flashes forward to a battle between Van Helsing and Mr. Hyde that is pretty cool (and puts LXG’s Mr. Hyde to shame). The rest of the film has geek fulfilling moments like Dracula vs. the Wereworlf, Dracula vs. Frankenstein’s Monster, Van Helsing vs. Dracula’s Brides, etc. It’s all quite a bit of fun.

Sommers also tinkers with the monster legends just enough to retain the classic characteristics of them while still making them unique to the movie. Dracula’s Brides have a unique, bat-like look as well as a few new powers. Frankenstein’s Monster has a modern, effects filled look while still retaining the bolts in his neck, bad walk, and flat head. The werewolves also transform in an interesting way not shown of screen before (as far as I know). This helps to give the film a new look and feel while still keeping the creatures familiar. (Unfortunately, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelly aren’t credited anywhere in the film for creating the characters.)

Hugh Jackman stars as Van Helsing. He’s kind of a mix of Wolverine (who has a mysterious past), James Bond (adventurer with cool gadgets), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (fighting the supernatural), and Hellboy. I’m a fan of Hugh Jackman, but I didn’t think this role brought out his best qualities. Van Helsing is kind of one-dimensional compared to Jackman’s other characters. It didn’t help that he didn’t have much chemistry with Kate Beckinsale. However, Jackman did handle the action well and he is a fun hero to root for, so he makes a pretty good Van Helsing.

Kate Beckinsale as Anna Valerious supports Jackman. She fulfills her role well by being tough and pretty, but not much more is asked of her. (And how does she battle monsters in high heels?) David Wenham also couldn’t be more different from his Lord of the Rings character as Friar Carl. He provides most of the comic relief for the film as Van Helsing’s sidekick and “Q”. It’s unfortunate that he’s rather annoying, but he otherwise does what’s asked of him as well.

The effects are a bit of a mixed bag. Some of them aren’t that great while others are spectacular. Many of the werewolf shots are quite impressive. They give the character impossible strength and speed and they make him appropriately scary. The shots of Transylvania and the castles are also quite impressive. I also thought that though Mr. Hyde was a bit CGI, he still looked great and made a formidable opponent for Van Helsing. Overall there’s some nice eye candy in the film.

I also have to say that I liked the film score by Alan Silvestri. The action scenes and monster scenes feature powerful, booming base drums that instantly set you in the mood for the story. It’s a great action score. Then during other moments he uses a guitar to set a lighter mood for Van Helsing himself. The score is at times over the top, but that’s just what this popcorn flick needs.

What Didn’t Work:
As already mentioned, Van Helsing has a fair amount of camp included in it. For example, characters swing around doing gravity defying feats that Spider-Man would be hard pressed to imitate. Anna Valerious swings hundreds of feet in the air in the rain one handed and catches an object unnecessarily thrown to her. Other times she does impossible flips to land a perfect 10… in high heels. Then there’s Van Helsing who has an automatic crossbow that fires a seemingly endless supply of arrows. Then there’s the dialogue that is also campy. One of Dracula’s brides actually says, “Too bad. So sad.” At another time Anna Valerious stops dead in her tracks and then randomly says how she regrets having never seen the ocean. (A sure sign of impending doom.) It goes on from there. Your enjoyment of the movie will depend greatly on how you react to the campiness of the movie. If you hate it, then you’ll hate Van Helsing. If you’re OK with it or enjoy it, then you’ll enjoy the movie.

Also bad is Dracula himself, Richard Roxburgh. Dracula is supposed to be scary, sexy, and intimidating. I didn’t find him to be any of these things. There are a few occasions in the movie when he has monologues with his brides where his over-the-top performance was downright laughable. I thought he was going to say, “I vant to drink your blud” once or twice. Any time the brides and Dracula appear on the screen together, you can expect a cringe-worthy moment to come. Dracula also has some Oompa Loompas from hell called Dwergers that were pretty lame. I guess every bad guy needs lackeys, but these were not that great.

I wasn’t terribly fond of this incarnation of Frankenstein’s monster, either. In Mary Shelly’s novel, he was incredibly fast, strong, and well educated. In this movie is slow and clumsy, though he is very strong. It made him seem more like a liability or an afterthought than a major ally of our heroes. He shows real promise during the opening of the film, but that quickly goes away by the end.

As already mentioned, some of the effects are pretty bad. One that really stands out is when a horse coach jumps a broken bridge in slow motion. It looked terribly CG and not believable at all. I think a good portion of the audience and I groaned, “Oh, please…” when it happened. Some trapeze artists late in the movie also looked particularly weak, especially when Van Helsing joins in on their routine. I could name other scenes, but it would be beating a dead horse.

This leads to my last point – the movie left a lot of questions in my mind. Why did Van Helsing lose his memory? Why has he been alive for so long? There are other questions I have, but I can’t get into them without discussing the end of the movie. Suffice it to say that I think a lot of plot holes and lapses in logic appeared in the story for the sake of bringing all these separate, classic characters together on the screen. Whether or not that’s a good or bad thing will depend on your personal tastes.

The Bottom Line:
I think Van Helsing is worth seeing on the big screen, if nothing else than for the audience reaction and to see the action and effects in the theater. Again, your reaction to the campiness will affect your liking of the film. Your thoughts on The Mummy Returns will be a good measure of that.

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