Written and Directed by Stephen Sommers
Running Time: 2:13
for nonstop creature action violence
and frightening images, and for sensuality.
Van Helsing was a visually entertaining action-adventure full of fantastic special effects, but the dialogue was so cheesy it brought the entire movie down.
Monster hunter Van Helsing, fresh off his defeat of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (which can be seen in its entirety in the animated Van Helsing - The London Assignment), is asked by The Order to head to Transylvania, home of some of the most legendary creatures of the time. His job is to bring down the immortal Dracula, so that the nine generations of Valerious family can finally rest in heaven. If Dracula manages to kill Princess Anna, her family line will live in Purgatory forever. While in Transylvania, Van Helsing also runs into the Frankenstein monster, as well as the brides of Dracula, and a werewolf or two. But will he also find the memories he has lost over time, and finally figure out where he came from?
I generally like this kind of movie. Total popcorn, sit back in your seat and enjoy the ride, kind of film. Especially ones with a comic book feel to it. Sometimes they can miss (see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) and sometimes they're a hit (see the X-Men films). Van Helsing falls somewhere in between. Visually it was terrific, but story-wise and especially dialogue-wise, it left something to be desired.
From the opening, I knew the visuals were going to be amazing. I love that gothic, dark comic feel to a movie, and this film didn't let up at all. All the computer animated stuff looked great, and I was especially impressed with the completely CGI Mr. Hyde. Had they done that good a job on The Hulk (and of course had a better story) that movie might have done a lot better than it did. Sure there were some instances where you could obviously tell that they substituted a live actor for an animated doppelganger (the mirror image of Dracula and Anna dancing being the worst offender), but in most cases, the need for extraordinary action that no human could accomplish outweighed the few seconds of CGI missteps.
The acting was good enough for this kind of film. It's not the actors fault that the words they had to say were horrible. Hugh Jackman, who now finds himself in the middle of another comic book franchise, was his Wolverine self playing the high moralistic good guy, with a bit of the freak inside him. Kate Beckinsale, who, as an aside, I find the most beautiful woman in Hollywood, also has a history with this kind of film, having headlined the vampire/werewolf thriller Underworld. Her abilities in the action sequences were admirable, but her character was introduced to laughs instead of amazement, not on purpose mind you, and from then on was never taken as seriously as she should have been. This is one of the few times I was actually annoyed with the way a film introduced a major character. Between the two leads, the things that they said were sometimes so over the top it was embarrassing. Almost as it Stephen Sommers had so much on his plate that he felt the need to have these two explain what was happening, rather than show it. They would make such large leaps in logic you wondered why they hadn't captured Dracula ages ago.
The other characters that I really enjoyed were the assistants, Igor and Carl. Both were the kind of comedic sidekicks that every good movie should have. Always ready for a funny line or two before heading back to the sidelines. I actually wish they had been on screen more often, as they kept the movie lighthearted. Richard Roxburgh as Dracula was also a lot of fun, because he never took himself too seriously. And I guess that was another problem with the film. It seemed to me that Van Helsing and Anna were always very serious about what they were doing, while the other characters around them realized they were in a comic book film and that things shouldn't be taken so seriously. The film kept jumping over that line but never straddled it as well as other films in the past have. It made me wonder if I should consider this a no-nonsense action film where one guy and one girl were battling to odds to take down an unbeatable creature. Or was it a whimsical romp through the pages of a comic book where everyone knows how absurd everything is, but takes it all in stride?
The story line I'm still not sure about. From Van Helsing's point of view it was simple. Kill Dracula. Along the way if you find a hot woman to love, go for it. If you find a large man-made creature with a heart of gold, help him out as well. But basically, kill Dracula and anything that gets in your way. But Dracula's story about needing to use the work of Dr. Frankenstein to help bring his children to life I'm not convinced about. He seems like a smart guy. Did he not realize that he needed Frankenstein's monster to pull it off? Did he not check to see if Frankie died in the fire? I mean, it's not a bad story idea, just not a very compelling one. I also liked the combining of characters, having Dracula and Frankenstein as contemporaries, and having Dracula controlling werewolves for his own purposes. There was no single Wolfman in the film, but there were a couple of werewolves that showed up. I am curious however, with the ending as it is, who is going to show up for the inevitable sequel...
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I enjoyed Van Helsing, but not as much as I could have. If you're the kind of person that likes good looking, slickly made action films (with wooden dialogue), this is a good one for you. If you're someone that likes to have the words the characters say be as exciting and insightful as the action, then you may want to pass.