Let’s be honest, “Van Helsing” is a big, dumb movie. But it also happens to be a relentlessly enjoyable dumb movie. While illogical and sometimes confusing, it delivers a staggering amount of spectacle, enough to quiet the nagging criticism lurking in the back of your mind.
The title refers to the legendary monster hunter, covertly in the employ of the church, whose mission is to destroy the evil things that go bump in the night. After dispatching Mr. Hyde in Paris, Van Helsing (Huge Jackman) is sent to Transylvania to eradicate Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). But Van Helsing soon realizes that his mission isn’t as simple as it seems, especially when it involves a werewolf and Frankenstein’s monster. They both play a role in Dracula’s plan to give life to millions of his undead children and unleash them upon an unsuspecting world. Furthering the problem is that Dracula knows more about Van Helsing than the hunter knows about himself.
There are a lot of things wrong with “Van Helsing”, chiefly the script, which doesn’t make a lot of sense at times. Why does the church allow law enforcement to hunt Van Helsing as a criminal, further impeding his job? Why does Dracula need Frankenstein’s monster to bring his offspring back to life, and why are all his kids so damn ugly when they’ve got such attractive parents? Why isn’t more revealed about Van Helsing’s past? Dracula acts like he knows the whole story, but tends to state the obvious. Anyone watching would love to know more, since it would make the plot easier to follow.
Another problem is Richard Roxburgh (“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”) as Count Dracula. Roxburgh seems to want to play the character as aristocratic and elegant, but winds up going over the top instead. This results in a lot of scenery chewing, instead of the intended scene stealing. Under Roxburgh, the famed vampire becomes a cartoonish figure, at times difficult to imagine as being able to pose an actual threat (except to nearby scenery, that is).
Yes, there are some glaring problems with “Van Helsing”, but there’s so much right with it that it’s easy to overlook the obvious faults. Writer/director/co-producer Stephen Sommers (“The Mummy” films) clearly loves the old Universal monster movies, and this is his celluloid valentine to them. He manages to recreate the spirit and atmosphere of the classic films, and is sure to include all the details that made them so memorable. They’re all here: the creepy Igor (played by Sommers regular Kevin J. O’Connor), villagers storming the castle, spooky graveyard scenes, and ominous countryside. Make no mistake, Sommers has it all covered.
There’s nary a dull spot to be found, since the action sequences come fast, constant, and furious, leaving little room for exposition. One aspect of the plot in particular should be applauded: Sommers chooses to portray Frankenstein’s monster as Mary Shelley intended, as not just a mindless evil being. Sommers gives us a monster that is at times eloquent, moral, and capable of impressive depths of emotion. Hardly a monster at all, in fact, because it willingly allies itself with Van Helsing.
The special effects are impressive, and the CGI vampire brides and werewolves look amazingly lifelike and move fluidly. Set designs and cinematography enhance the eerie feel the movie hopes to project, and makes what happens onscreen easier to accept. Alan Silvestri’s score is also well done, but tends to get lost in all the chases and monster fighting that goes on.
Hugh Jackman (“X-Men”) looks perfect as Van Helsing, with his terse manner, dark flowing clothing and fearlessness. But you can’t help feeling he’s just playing another version of Wolverine, and occasionally you expect the rest of the X Men to pop up to help him out. David Wenham (“The Return of the King”) is terrific as Carl, the nervous and frantic friar Van Helsing takes along to assist him. Aside from supplying Van Helsing with a lot of neat gadgets, Carl provides a huge dose of needed comic relief. Kevin J O’Connor is also memorable as Igor, alternating between being just plain weird to very funny. As Frankenstein’s monster, Shuler Hensley is outstanding, giving the creature the right amount of pathos, intellect, and loneliness.
“Van Helsing” is outlandish, doesn’t always make sense, and is downright silly at times. But it’s loads of fun to watch and is the perfect way to start the season of mindless summer blockbusters. Anyone looking for a fun 132 minutes should just put logic on hold, sit back, and enjoy Stephen Sommers’ ode to classic horror movies.
Stephen Sommers (director) / Stephen Sommers (screenplay)
CAST: Hugh Jackman …. Van Helsing
Kate Beckinsale …. Anna Valerious
Richard Roxburgh …. Count Dracula
David Wenham …. Carl
Shuler Hensley …. Monster