Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), the vampire-hunter from Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, is reconceived as a young monster-hunter in a story featuring Frankenstein, werewolves, and Dracula himself.
Note: If you enjoyed the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (LXG), then disregard my one star, call me a humourless bastard if you like, and go along to Van Helsing. God bless.
I liked Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy. It had a simple but effective story. It was fairly consistently funny as well as being an action extravaganza. And it gave the actors a chance to share more than a few words without some CGI monster breathing down their backs. So I was hoping for good things from Sommers’ latest effort. Van Helsing, however, was not my cup of tea. In fact, it was a bitter chalice. The trailer shows the gilt, but hides the mawkish depths. And those who have seen LXG will have an extraordinary sense of djà vu while watching this film – the cramming together of literary characters (including a suspiciously-similar CGI Mr Hyde) in stupidly complicated plot, the dark gothic sets, the over-the-top costumes, the icy fortresses, the mushy sound of mash being mished.
This movie does give food for thought. Why has Dracula employed Ewoks from The Return of the Jedi as his lab assistants? Why couldn’t the damn film be an hour shorter? Why did Sommers feel a ‘ghostly Darth/Ben/Yoda’ type scene at the end would be a good idea? Why does the gypsy princess keep strapping on swords and pistols but never get to use them? Perhaps it’s because she can’t breathe in the corset, move in high heels, or flex a facial expression through the makeup. You will likely wonder about more important things, like what you might have for dinner. You might think that at least this mess won’t spawn tie-in animated movies, sequels, Disney World rides, games and TV series. But you’ll be wrong. That’s the really depressing part.
Sommers has tried to build on Universal’s history of stylish horror flicks, but instead has plundered and abused them, as well as many other films, in the process. Apparently not knowing what kind of film to make, he has tried to make several at once and wasted everyone’s talent along the way. Hugh Jackman can do this kind of thing with his eyes closed, and Kate Beckinsale apparently cut quite a swathe in Underworld. yet both seem largely wasted and chemically unattached here. David Wenham offers some welcome relief as the comic side-kick, but also has patchy lines to work with. Frankenstein ends up offering the most emotional promise as a character, despite the contrivance of jamming him into a vampire epic.
Van Helsing has some eye-catching and inventive visuals, of course, but past the 90 minute mark it just becomes too difficult to care what happens next. The titters of the audience become less amused and more incredulous as time wore on. The first 90 minutes could have earned it two stars, but the last hour definitely cuts it down to one.