Van Helsing

A Film Review By The Mike

Rating:RATED PG-13 for stylized violence and monsters
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh
Directed By: Stephen Sommers

Final Grade:

While watching Van Helsing, the first of our summer blockbusters for 2004, I decided there are two snippets of dialogue that can be used to sum up the quality of the film. They are this exchange:

“There’s a brighter side to death?”
“Of course there is, it’s just harder to see.”

and this plot device:

“Nothing’s faster than a Transylvanian horse; not even a Werewolf.”

Knowing that those two bits, one a ludicrously contradicting attempt at depth and one a ludicrously silly plot device, exist in the film should let you know what to expect (although the fact that it’s a movie about a man who hunts Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man, and the unadvertised Dr. Hyde should be a hint) from Van Helsing. I’ve used it twice already, but ludicrous is easily the best word to describe the film.

The plot, if one is kind enough to call it a plot, revolves around Gabriel (Not Abraham, for some reason, even though that is his real name) Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), who’s hired out by the Vatican as the greatest slayer of evil alive. After an opening encounter with Mr. Hyde, he’s sent on his next mission: To destroy Count Dracula, the lord of Transylvania, and protect the family that’s trying to destroy him’s remaining members, which basically means the beautiful Kate Beckinsale.

Count Dracula on the other hand, apparently bored with his three beautiful winged brides, is on a mission to find a way to bring his offspring into the world. You see, the children of the undead Dracula and his undead brides are, of course, born dead. He doesn’t approve of this, and so he enlists the help of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who has found the secret of life. Unfortunately, that plan goes awry as the villagers storm Frankenstein’s lab, and the doctor and his creation are burnt up in a windmill….or are they????

Meanwhile, the Wolf Man’s on the loose too. Yep, that’s it.

As you can tell by what I’ve said already, Van Helsing is a bloated film, cramming so much into so little, especially when trying to make its plot make sense. It works, for the most part, as most every plot device used comes into play at some point in the film, but that’s not always a good thing. There were several times throughout the film that I found myself laughing at the screen, wondering if anyone could ever take this movie seriously with such a contrived story and a lack of depth. I surely could not.

But the thing about Van Helsing is, I didn’t care one bit. None of these plot gripes that I’ve posted for your use meant a thing to me. I (literally) grew up watching these monsters and learning their mythologies (and have a 2nd Grade project to prove it), and this film brings them to life in a modern setting I’ve always hoped for. Van Helsing is loud and brash, and undoubtedly boils down to being a never-ending action scene. But it’s a fun one if you’re ready for it.

You know that reaction teenage girls get at romantic comedies? The faces they make when Hilary Duff or Sandra Bullock finally gets the guy to notice them? That was my reaction to nearly the entire final half-hour of Van Helsing. My babies were fighting it out, and it made me giddy. Call me crazy, but I can’t help reacting that way.

As a critic, I tried awfully hard not to like Van Helsing. From an unbiased perspective, it’s a mediocre to awful film, despite its good humor, great CGI, and solid action scenes. But, if you know what you’re getting into, and can fully accept that you’re going to be watching a ludicrous spectacle instead of a substantial film, Van Helsing will be a pleasurable view you’ll not soon forget.