Van Helsing


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Not awful, but nothing to recommend it.  The word that springs immediately to the Masked Reviewer's mind to describe this film is "Eh."



Van Helsing
The Masked Reviewer

When the world is threatened by Dracula AND the werewolf AND Frankenstein's monster...who you gonna call?  Van Helsing!


Surely, you've heard of the legendary monster hunter Van Helsing...haven't you?  He even took on Dr. Jeckyll AND Mr. Hyde, too!  He's like a 19th century superhero...except nobody's ever heard of him...until now.

The Masked Reviewer has probably told his readers too much about the movie already, but it'd be impossible to write a review without revealing some of the facts of the film.  Hugh Jackman plays the aforementioned hero, Van Helsing.  He's a tough guy, a bad-good guy, who has no memory of his own past.  Sure, that may sound similar to his performance as Wolverine in X-Men, but wait, there's more.

Van Helsing takes on the crème de la crème of movie monsters, who have banded together to complete some superfluously confusing evil scheme.  Sure, that may sound similar to the set up for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but wait, there's more.

The film is directed by Stephen Sommers, who directed both of the Mummy films.  Sure, Van Helsing also uses classic movie monsters and is a fast-paced roller coaster ride that's little more than an excuse to spend millions of dollars on computer generated effects in nearly every single scene, but wait, there's more.

Did the Masked Reviewer mention that Igor appears in the film, and is played by Kevin J. O'Connor, who played "Beni" in The Mummy?  Did the Masked Reviewer mention it's basically the same role?  How about Richard Roxburgh?  He plays Dracula in this one, but also appeared in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as "M".  Let's not forget David Wenham who starred in another couple of effects laden movies called Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers and Return of the King as Faramir.  He plays a friar that provides Van Helsing with all of his high-tech monster fighting gadgetry.  Sure, that may sound similar to Q in the James Bond movies.  But wait, there's more.

Kate Beckinsale plays a vampire hunter and fights werewolves too.  Sure, that may sound similar to her performance in Underworld where she was a vampire fighting werewolves.  But, see, this is where things are completely different!  See, she's a human and she fights both vampires and werewolves!  Don't you see?!  This is groundbreaking in it's differentness.

Or, maybe not.

Van Helsing is an interesting movie.  There's a lot that's awfully darn familiar about it.  It's almost as if the filmmakers plucked elements directly out of other movies.  "Hugh Jackman plays a good tough guy with no memory of his past...let's get him for this one!"  Sadly, many parallels can be drawn to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which was extraordinarily crappy.  The idea of bringing together a bunch of classic characters works a bit better in this film, though, even though the Masked Reviewer doesn't remember Dracula or Frankenstein being set in the late 1900's.

Anachronisms aside, director Stephen Sommers clearly has a love for the classic horror films.  The classic characters are treated with a lot of loving respect; the opening scene is an homage to them.  The movie walks a tightrope at times, though: it often feels like it's going to fall into parody or a cheap rip off.  The over-the top acting and bad accents are faithfully recreated by the contemporary actors playing Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and others...and it somehow manages to avoid being hokey.

The bad news is that Hugh Jackman doesn't have anything to work with.  His character is the least developed in the movie, followed closely by Kate Beckinsale's character.  They're just plopped in and dragged around from one action scene to another.  They both have fans who would be happy to watch them doing their taxes on screen, however, because they are what's known as Beautiful People. 

On to the effects...did the Masked Reviewer mention that there are some special effects in this movie?  It seems as though almost every scene in the movie features some kind of CGI.  Even the boring shots have digital backgrounds or computer generated scenery to spice them up a bit.  Sadly, there's absolutely nothing new or different in any of the effects.  You'll feel like you've seen everything before, somewhere.  One character (who also appears in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) you have seen before, if you've seen League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  There are several CGI characters in the film, too -- and, while some people will undoubtedly rave about the quality of the effects in the film -- there's never a single moment when anyone will be fooled into thinking they're seeing anything other than a computer generated character.  Frankenstein's monster, fortunately, is played by a real person (although, he too gets modified by CGI); who in Hollywood thinks that we've reached a point when computer characters are convincing?  It looks like a videogame, which is great for a videogame, but forced and not believable for a movie character.

The writing is weak throughout the movie.  It needs more laughs -- the few they have aren't frequent or funny enough.  Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale...they've got nothing to work with.  Dracula and Frankenstein's monster, at least, are characters that most of us know, so the actors built on that.  The story was rather silly and little more than an excuse for a variety of effects.

Now, all that being said...the movie does have on thing going for it.  It somehow manages to be entertaining, for the most part.  It's certainly not memorable and unlikely to be a choice for repeated viewings.  But, the pacing is good.  The filmmakers don't waste any time with complicated exposition (in fact, when Van Helsing finally does get the opportunity to learn the secret of his past, it's kind of glossed over in favor of more fight scenes).  The characters bop from one effects-driven action scene to another, and the audience doesn't find itself sitting around waiting for more.  The two-hours-and-twelve minutes zoom by.  At the end, though, you may wonder what happened to that time.

Van Helsing does feature a couple of cool little gadgets, including these blades that are like two portable buzzsaws.  The Masked Reviewer could use those saws, and hopes they're made available to the public soon.  Van Helsing isn't the only one who needs to fight evil, you know.

If you love Hugh Jackman (he's got a HUGE Ackman) or Kate Beckinsale, this won't destroy your opinion of either of them, but they don't do much.  It's a better movie than League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but not by all that much.  The over-dependence on special effects would have a better payoff if they did something new and different with those effects.  They did treat the classic movie monsters respectfully -- in fact, one has to wonder if this movie was thought up by a Universal studio exec who said "Let's do a movie with our classic horror properties!  We need a couple of heroes, like Wolverine and that chick from Underworld, and maybe we can get something like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that doesn't suck as much."  It's also a bit reminiscent of The Hulk.  Yet, it keeps your attention and does the action scenes passably.  Not awful, but nothing to recommend it.  The word that springs immediately to the Masked Reviewer's mind to describe this film is "Eh."


Expectation from the Title: When the Grim Reaper picks up a bunch of doomed campers in his Dodge Caravan to take them to Hades, they begin a rousing rendition of "99Bottles of Beer on the Wall"

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale would have very attractive kids together.

The Pros: Some nice tributes made to classic horror films, good pacing.

The Cons: Eh.  All too familiar, nothing clever or interesting, "seen it" special effects, too many CGI characters, too much like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Blade and Underworld.


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