When the world is threatened by Dracula
AND the werewolf AND Frankenstein's monster...who you gonna call?
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
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,
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
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
The Pros: Some nice tributes made to classic horror films,
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