Having already reinvented the Mummy genre, director Stephen Sommers now turns his attentions to the other 1930’s horror icons – Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man.
The film starts with a black & white sequence showing Dr Frankenstein creating his monster (Shuler Hensley) at the behest of none other than Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). Unfortunately they are soon interrupted by the arrival of that classic group of people ‘The Angry Pitchfork Waving Mob’. Soon the good Doctor is dead, his creature allegedly destroyed and a furious Dracula is left standing with his three vampire brides.
Cut to Paris one year on and the introduction of Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) who is in the process of hunting down Dr Jekyll (or is it Mr Hyde? voiced by Robbie Coltrane). It turns out that Van Helsing works for the Vatican hunting down and either bringing back or destroying supernatural creatures (mostly the latter).
Upon returning to Rome he is given his latest assignment which is to take on Count Dracula. So with his assistant, a friar called Carl (David Wenham), in tow, Van Helsing travels to Transylvania.
When Van Helsing and Carl arrive in a small village near Dracula’s castle, it is suddenly attacked by the three vampire brides who are set on killing a gypsy princess Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) who with her brother Velkan (Will Kemp) are the last of nine generations of the family who have sworn forgo eternal rest until they vanquish Dracula.
Soon with the help of Anna, Van Helsing is hot on the trail of Dracula, but unfortunately for them, they are unaware of the vampire lord’s real motives and his scheme to create thousands of his kind.
Van Helsing is a film that borrows from many others including the obvious Universal Monster movies of the 1930’s to modern films such as James Bond and Blade II. Director Stephen Sommers crams in so much CGI it’s a wonder that the human actors bothered to turn up onset at all. This is the same mistake that he did with The Mummy Returns; cram in so much CGI action that there is no time left for any sort of good character development, plot or dialogue. As a result all the actors are basically fitting into stereotypical characters which consist of either looking broody or just camping it up with silly accents.
The classic characters of Universal’s 1930’s films such as Dracula, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein have had such a level of dramatic license taken that they no longer fit into the context of this film. For example, the original Van Helsing was an elderly man knowledgeable in Medieval lore – here we have a guy who knows nothing about legends and lore (hence he needs a sidekick to explain it all to him), he could well be thousands of years old and has more gadgets than James Bond. Speaking of James Bond – here too is a film where the opening scene is the hero on a mission, who returns to his ‘headquarters’ to receive the next briefing, more gadgets and gismos from a nerdy inventor, before setting of across the globe against an arch villain and all with a beautiful girl in tow. Lazy writing is an understatement. Speaking of gadgets – gas powered crossbows and sunlight bombs created a more than a hundred years ago? You jest surely! Besides everyone knows that the sunlight bomb was invented by Blade’s chum in Blade II.
Hugh Jackman is totally wasted in the role and brings nothing beyond squinting from under his hat to the role. The potential for having a moody, violent anti-hero was totally wasted; even Jackman’s physique is submerged by the CGI surroundings and he ends up looking like a diminutive hero. Kate Beckinsale is probably the least convincing gypsy woman of the time – and the only person in an entire village not dressed in a peasants garb or covered in mud. Richard Roxburgh plays Count Dracula with the panache of a cardboard box which is a real shame as he’s the most interesting character.
Stephen Sommers seems incapable of making a film that concentrates on plot. For example a character finds the key to defeating Dracula in an animated picture in a library which also happens to contain the portal to his lair and Van Helsing has the missing scrap of parchment needed to open the portal – which was lucky – luck for the film makers and luck for the audience as they it saves them getting interested about the film.
Everything in the film is ridiculously over-the-top, from the four different characters that fall throughout the film from great heights only to be saved by a well placed rope at the last minute to the video-game CGI generated fight at the end to the unbelievably stupid chasm-jump by six horses and a carriage over a broken bridge.
Surprisingly the few nice touches to the film are also CGI – but not the CGI such as the OTT form used to transform Frankenstein’s laboratory into a sparkling, pulsation green power grid as an example – but the CGI used in moderation such as the pulsing, luminescent heart and brains of Frankenstein’s Monster.
Van Helsing is without a doubt a totally brainless summer blockbuster movie – overused CGI, weak plot and crap acting galore – Don’t ask any questions on why characters are doing what they are doing or why the plot struggles to hold one action sequence to another – just sit back and watch as yet another CGI Van Helsing figure is being thrown around by another CGI monster and sigh with despair at what could have been a great film turn into a Stephen Sommers film.
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