The famed monster hunter is sent to Transylvania to stop Count Dracula, who is using Dr. Frankenstein's research and a werewolf for nefarious purposes.The famed monster hunter is sent to Transylvania to stop Count Dracula, who is using Dr. Frankenstein's research and a werewolf for nefarious purposes.The famed monster hunter is sent to Transylvania to stop Count Dracula, who is using Dr. Frankenstein's research and a werewolf for nefarious purposes.
The first fifteen minutes of Van Helsing are promising: a black-and-white prologue depicting mad scientist Frankenstein and his monstrous creation is a nice little homage to the Universal Pictures of past times. It's nicely juxtaposed with the movie's opening action sequence, an exhilarating battle between the titular Van Helsing and the evil Mr. Hyde (a silly special effect, but used well in this opening scene), with plenty of over-the-top stunts that are thrilling to watch.
But most of the rest of the film is a complete and utter mess, so much that I wouldn't be surprised if the movie saw an afterlife as a cult classic of sorts. Truth be told, I sort of admire the movie's outrageousness and I honestly can't bring myself to totally hate it, but I sure as hell can't say I liked it, either.
Hugh Jackman stars as Van Helsing, the Vatican Church's assassin of evil creatures. A clumsy monologue between Van Helsing and one of the priests serves as exposition, though you would think this conversation is one they would have had a long time ago (yeah, I understand it's to bring the audience up to speed but there are less idiotic ways of doing it). We're also introduced to a secret hideout under the Church with an arsenal of weaponry and inventions.
Van Helsing's latest assignment is to head to Transylvania and help the remaining Valerious family (pretty much just Kate Beckinsale) kill the vampire Dracula, who if not vanquished, will somehow prevent the Valerious clan from entering Heaven. Van Helsing's also got another incentive for going: there's an insignia on a paper from Transylvania that looks a lot like the symbol on his ring. You see, he has no memory of his past, except lots of nightmares involving ancient wars he couldn't possibly have been part of (this, too, is clumsily introduced and is something that one would think he would have mentioned long ago). For this mission, Van Helsing brings along friar Carl (David Wenham), a milquetoast inventor but nonetheless faithful companion. Along with Anna (Beckinsale), they set out to end Dracula's reign of terror before he can finish with a plan that could bring to life thousands of his offspring.
Beckinsale's introductory scene is also pretty cool (and also very silly), with lots of slow-mo, as she helps her brother fight off a Dracula-controlled werewolf. It's also a decent action sequence in its own right. Soon afterward, Van Helsing's arrival leads to yet another battle scene, this time between the Anna's townspeople and Dracula's sexy brides. This, too, is another passably enjoyable sequence, if also a little overdrawn.
Come to think of it, most of the action scenes in this movie are passably competent, but not much more. I did like the coach chase, and I enjoyed almost every scene involving flying vampires (so long as they're not of the baby bat variety). But after a while, it's just overkill, particularly the insane climax, where we actually witness Frankenstein swinging around on rope and accidentally knocking over not one but two villains who are about to kill our heroes on two separate occasions. The baby vampires are also ridiculously lame, and a possibly exciting action sequence set inside an elaborate masquerade conveniently ends very quickly with the use of a "grenade" (think Blade II).
The performances are about what I expected, overdone but fitting. Matter of fact, despite some initially annoying turns catching me off-guard (David Wenham's Carl, for instance), most of the leads actually kind of grew on me after a while. That said, Jackman is a tad bland, surprising when you consider what a charismatic actor he normally is. The gorgeous Beckinsale is fine in her role, even if her cringe-inducing accent isn't. Wenham scores some laughs as Carl, none more effective than a scene where after he's saved a hot chick who asks how she can repay him, he answers with a "naughty" request. Richard Roxburgh is quite amusing as Dracula, hamming it up in every possible moment and proving quite enjoyable to watch. Kevin J. O'Connor also delivers a few good laughs as Igor, I especially loved his response to why he keeps torturing the werewolf.
But there's only so much fun performances can do to keep such a poorly crafted and written film afloat. Lots of questions go unanswered; why would Frankenstein the monster show any feelings for his master when you consider the fact he never even speaks to him (the movie opens with the scientist proclaiming "it's alive!", then is killed by Drac less than five minutes later, hardly enough time for Frank and the monster to bond)? Why has the Vatican waited so long to send Van Helsing to kill Dracula when considering he's presumably had many assignments beforehand? Why does Van Helsing bring along Carl for this mission? Why does that creepy, white-haired Transylvanian guy stay out in the middle of night when there are vampires and werewolves lurking about? How exactly does Dracula maintain control over his werewolves and why exactly does he even need them? Why is the werewolf antidote confined in such an elaborate manner when it proves to be something Dracula would hypothetically need to take hold of in quick fashion?
A few of these questions might actually have been answered but with all the indecipherable accents and loud score and soundtrack, I couldn't tell you. The foley guys must have had a field day cranking up every sound threefold, and Alan Silvestri's overwrought score has this distracting tex-mex style twang in the background. The story, in general, is convoluted, but put together with so little coherency that every time an action sequence pops up, its random appearance is more disjointed than thrilling.
The CGI is extremely overwhelming, but instead of creating a visually atmospheric and engulfing environment, it's a goofy example of extreme overload. F/X shots are inserted with little care to their effectiveness, and the film is packed with obvious and annoying CGI stunts. It's actually almost as bad as LXG in this regard, but is at least not nearly as bloated (from a running time POV) and visually plain as Pirates of the Caribbean (which gave us little more than underused CGI skeletons and a lot of plain-looking islands and warships).
The movie's super-cheesy final scenes lead me to wonder if Sommers was on crack when he included those last few f/x shots. I hate to say it, but he's now almost on the same level of George Lucas when it comes to pasting together plot, action, and special effects. Hard to believe this is the same guy who gave us the terrifically entertaining The Mummy, but with every successive film, he's actually going further and further away from what made his first blockbuster such a joy
- May 10, 2004