a critiQal film review Van Helsing (2004)

Plot: Van Helsing (Jackman) is a monster hunter without a past. He hunts the things that go bump in the night - the stuff most people don't know about. His latest mission: to go to Transylvania and defeat the legendary Count Dracula (Roxburgh) - and figure out what to do about Frankenstein (Hensley) while he's there.

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  • ...while Beckinsale and Jackman aren't at their best, the action sequences help make up for it.

Finally, the classic horror villains are getting a chance to act again! Who could forget such classic monsters as the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster and Count Dracula? These three villains caused many a frightened moviegoer back in the day, but they have kind of fallen by the wayside in the past few decades. Thankfully, Van Helsing has decided to come along and change all that.

With Mr. Wolverine himself (Hugh Jackman) in the title role, and beauty Kate Beckinsale (Underworld (2003)) along for the ride, would this be the first great action film of the summer…or should the monsters have stayed buried?

The acting in Van Helsing was only so-so. The action sequences seemed to be the main star of the film, and the parts in between seemed a bit awkward. Kate and Hugh did their best, but they were given quite a few cheesy lines in the breathers between the action. But when they did go into action, they both shined.

Roxburgh, as Dracula, brought a definite feel all his own to the classic role, and performed decently enough, but again the dialogue in quiet moments left something to be desired.

The best of the other characters were Van Helsing’s tag-along “partner”, played by David Wenham and Igor, played by Kevin O’ Connor (from The Mummy (1999), Sommer’s other monster movie series). Their characters seemed to be the most fleshed out, and their roles in the film greatly benefited from the extra attention. Even though both are smaller characters in Van Helsing, they provide most of the laughs when they are needed.

The plot was interesting, but again the dialogue of Van Helsing greatly hindered the audience’s involvement with the plot. The whole idea of one guy going up against werewolves, Dracula AND Frankenstein’s monster sounds exciting, so it grabs you right from the get-go. It tosses in an incredible action sequence, adds a bit of humor, and throws in some impressive scenery…you’re on the edge of your seat until the end of the action sequence…and then you can go lie down and take a nap, because that’s where the movie fall apart.

Those in-between breathers really pull down the movie, and seem so in contrast with all the excitement, you wonder why they are in there at all. Maybe it’s to establish more of a bond between the characters, maybe it’s just to get the audience a chance to catch their breath. Either way, it should have been taken out.

If it’s to establish more of a bond between the characters, it fails, because it doesn’t establish anything except a new level of cheese. The audience cares more about the characters during the tense action sequences than it does when they are spouting cheesy lines back and forth.

If it’s to give the audience a chance to breath, it fails there too. While it does slow down the pace, it also makes the viewer wonder how long these type of scenes will continue, and makes us worry if we’ve already passed the good part of the film. Whatever the reason they were there, it wasn’t worth it. They should have been taken out.

Van Helsing‘s action sequences, as mentioned above, are spectacular, and will probably impress even the most jaded viewer. While Mr. Hyde does resemble the superhero in Underworld (2003) a bit, the site of him sets the viewer’s sights lower, so the viewer is even more stunned when we meet the Vampire Brides.

And from then on out, it keeps that higher quality of effects throughout the film. When the action starts, hold on…because it’s going to be a wild ride for a little while. There are a few flaws (other than the CGI Hyde) throughout the film, mostly involving easily assumed wire stunts, but all in all, it still comes off as being a fun ride.

Maybe, the trick to enjoying Van Helsing, is to go see X-Men (2000) first, then go watch The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), then go see this film. This film is sort of a combination of those two films, with both their good parts and their bad (But don’t worry too much – this film still far outshines The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)).

While the dialogue scenes (the “breather” scenes) suck, the action is so intense it should impress most anyone. While Van Helsing isn’t going to win any Oscars in my book, the film is decent enough to see in the cheap seats. Just remember as you’re watching it that the “breather scenes” don’t last too long…they just seem to.

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