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Van Helsing (2004)
I appreciate the enthusiasm with which Van Helsing was done - really. I enjoyed Stephen Sommers' previous two Universal reworkings (The Mummy and The Mummy Returns), and I've seen interviews with the guy. He has nothing but unbridled affection when it comes to the classic scare shows. However, as it is with so many films, passion just isn't enough; this is a clunky, ridiculous film that wouldn't pass muster as even the barest of homages.
Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is a man without a past, equal parts Vampire Hunter D, Wolverine, and The Shadow, on a mission from a secret Catholic order to hunt down monsters where-ever they may exist. His superiors send him to Transylvania to destroy Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) before the last members of a monster-killing dynasty die, so that the whole lineage can get into heaven. Or something.
Really, it's an excuse for Stephen Sommers to throw in a bunch of monsters from his childhood into one big monster rally and then mix in a few other beasties just in case he gets bored. In addition to Dracula, we get his three vampire brides, a couple different werewolves, Frankenstein's Monster, Ygor, the midget men from Phantasm, undead bat-spawn, and Mr. Hyde. While I'm sure that somewhere there's a piece of paper that makes this concept sound really good, its execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Did you ever go over to a friend's house and just sit there watching her-or-him play video games all afternoon? You know, it's vaguely interesting and there's some pretty awful cut-scenes to mock, but overall, you'd rather be playing the game or doing something else entirely. Van Helsing is a lot like that. It's like watching somebody else play this massive third-person adventure game with intricate level design and a new kind of baddie around ever corner, but never really engaging with it, because, after all, it is really just pretty lights and brainless action. Seriously, toss a little life meter in the upper right-hand corner and the movie would become at least a little more tolerable.
The crux of the problem, if I haven't been clear about it, is this: Van Helsing is too damned convoluted. The premise is laughable, and the twists it takes along the way are so awful (especially in regards to Gabriel's past), that I'm half-tempted to spoil them all here out of sheer spite.
The acting is pretty terrible, too. Roxburgh (who I enjoyed so very much in Moulin Rouge!) does a very off-putting Drac. Kate Beckinsale (playing the requisite love interest) delivers some pretty ridiculous dialogue with an equally ridiculous Romanian accent, and exhibits no chemistry with Jackman (which renders most of her "character arc" pretty useless).
David Wenham, as Van Helsing's bumbling weaponsmith, is a delight to watch, however. Last seen playing Faramir in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, Wenham flips around and shows astounding comic talent. His scuttling, bemused antics and cheery cowardice are a welcome respite from the crass surroundings.
There's also neat little touches left for classic Universal horror fans - the poem that starts "Even a man who is pure of heart..." is featured prominently, and the opening sequence (in black and white!) recalls the original Frankenstein quite effectively (and indeed, the only monster scene in the film worth mentioning). The character of Igor (Kevin J. O'Connor) is very much a direct imitation of Bela Lugosi's Ygor from Son of Frankenstein. However, fond touches (one could say blatant pandering if one were cynical) like these simply cannot save the film.
It's a good concept, really. Van Helsing is a classic figure of modern pop mythology, and this had serious franchise material as a sort of 19th Century supernatural Batman thing. However, it seems that Sommers just wanted to dive in and play with his childhood idols without stopping to think for a second as to how it might actually work. It's great for him, I'm sure, but it leaves the audience in the rather uncomfortable position of actually sitting through the film.