Van Helsing Movie Review
Van Helsing ends up as a high-concept adrenaline rush that never stops generating lesser concepts over its elongated 145-minute run time. Wheels start turning when Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) funds the creation of the Frankenstein monster (Shuler Hensley) to power a machine that will allow the vampire's offspring to live. The prince of darkness is trying to please his voracious brides, while the final descendent of a line of Transylvanian vampire hunters (Kate Beckinsale) is trying in vain to stake the brute before he ends her life. The wild card in this mix is Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), a hired gun with a guilty conscience working for the Catholic Church to vanquish various evil beings.
Sommers is a terrible choice to helm a special effects extravaganza. His Mummy movies made Universal some coin, but his effects work stands out for all the wrong reasons. Remember how bad it looked when Brendan Fraser raced the rising sun in The Mummy Returns? And let's not mention the laughable CGI Scorpion King from the finale of the same film. Video games boast more convincing visuals - coincidentally, you can look for a Van Helsing game in stores soon.
Nothing in Van Helsing feels quite as animatronic as the cartoon King - though an early glance at Dr. Jekyll's alter-ego, Mr. Hyde, comes close. Sommers' past success at the box office afforded him a bigger budget, which he wisely poured into expensive but impressive set designs. The town of Transylvania, Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory and Dracula's ice fortress provide memorable backdrops for Sommers' otherwise forgettable romp. Yet even here, Sommers shows little confidence in his visual ability, so he shoots the majority of his scenes in darkness, rain, or heavy snow.
Van Helsing holds deeper ambitions but marries itself to the mythology of comics, not classics. The werewolf character contributes nothing to Dracula's overall scheme, but Sommers drags him into the fray because he's a traditional Universal Studios villain. Stock horror dialogue sounds bad when barked loudly in ghastly European accents. Jackman sports a silly hat and a haircut stolen from Whitesnake's lead guitarist, but he's a disposable prop that happens to spit out the occasional one-liner.
In reality, Van Helsing owes more to Newton's first law of motion than it does to the horror classics it steals from. Objects placed in motion by the director never stop moving like energized pinballs from one elaborate setup to the next. Things move so quickly, we can't stop long enough to ask why certain events are happening. Why is Frankenstein the key to preserving Dracula's babies? Why do people continue to live in the vampire-ravaged town of Transylvania? Why did a wooden carriage burst into flames when the werewolf touched it? Oh wait, stop asking questions or you'll miss yet another CGI Van Helsing figure being thrown through yet another CGI wall.
She bites! She bites!