Van Helsing (2004)

Van Helsing is a 2004 action film directed by Stephen Sommers. It stars Hugh Jackman as the title character, and Kate Beckinsale as Anna Valerious. Their mission is fairly simple: kill Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) in order to allow Anna’s family into Heaven. Along the way, various other mythological creatures will be encountered, primarily in the forms of the Frankenstein Monster and the Werewolf. What results is an incredibly fun and exciting journey, riddled with clichés and cheesy dialogue. That’s basically what you can expect from it, and it most certainly delivered.

Gabriel Van Helsing is an amnesiac monster hunter, currently working for the Vatican. He is told that he must kill Count Dracula in order to help Anna’s family enter the Pearly Gates. He quickly sets off to Transylvania, meeting and saving Anna from a vampire attack. A short time later, they decide to go hunt Dracula together. This ends up being a wise choice, as it is quickly clear that Anna would not be able to defeat Dracula alone. Along the way, there are enough action scenes to fill more than a couple other movies. Van Helsing and Anna meet vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein, more vampires, and somehow manages to keep the plot somewhat coherent.

Van Helsing is a film that does appear to be trying too hard, despite sticking to a formula as old as every monster that it brings back from the graves of past Universal products. Having so many creatures appear on-screen is something that sometimes hampers films. They can make it seem crowded, and often makes the events in the film harder to keep track of. This balancing act of plot vs. creatures is something that Van Helsing pulls off quite well. The amount of creatures never feels overwhelming, and the plot doesn’t suffer from too many enemies. The formula that the film uses does make it seem a slight bit forced. “Go here, fight, pause for character development, travel again, et cetera.” This doesn’t make the film less fun to watch, but does make it seem like it is just going through the motions. This often times tends to disconnect viewers from a movie, a connection that the good acting thankfully brings back.

Van Helsing is a film that does appear to be trying too hard, despite sticking to a formula as old as every monster that it brings back from the graves of past Universal products.

That isn’t to say that the acting is something special, but some of it is certainly noteworthy. Richard Roxburgh’s Dracula steals the show every time he appears on the screen. Despite playing a completely over the top character, he does it masterfully. When he begins to walk on ceilings and walls, you end up enjoying it because it is something that you’ve been waiting for the character to do. Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale are somewhat of a joy to watch, despite delivering a few too many cheesy one-liners. The supporting cast is also quite impressive, with David Wenham playing Carl, Van Helsing’s sidekick, Kevin J. O’Connor as one of the creepiest Igor ever played, and Will Kemp as Anna’s brother. Everyone gives a decent-very good performance, allowing some of the film’s goofier plot points and special effects to go unnoticed.

The film uses a large amount of CGI. Does this entirely work and hold up to this day? Not entirely, but for the most part it still does. The transforming of a werewolf is shown to be incredibly painful, while the transformed vampires look terrifying. Where it doesn’t look all that impressive is when the vampires have not transformed, and are going to bite a human. Their jaws protrude outwards from their face, going far beyond what a jaw actually could do, and is so blatantly CGI that it is laughable. That’s truthfully the only terrible part of the film, and really doesn’t make a huge impact, apart from one scene near the finale where it certainly cuts the tension of what is actually happening on-screen. The scenery does look very nice, taking Van Helsing to many different areas, all of which are impressive to look at.

Whether you will like Van Helsing really is determined before you watch it. Can you look past a few plot holes and poorly done CGI? Can you tolerate cheesy dialogue? Is an unrelenting pace something you look for in a movie? Can you turn off your brain for a couple of hours and just watch and admire what is happening on-screen? If the answer to most of those is yes, you’ll probably like what Van Helsing has to offer. If the answer is no, then you might as well just skip it, as you will probably feel like you have wasted two hours of your life. Me? I like this kind of film. It’s simply a blast to watch, and I wouldn’t really have it any other way.

Conclusion: Van Helsing is a fun movie as long as you don’t want to look too hard at it.

Recommendation: If you like movies similar to Van Helsing, you’ll like it, too.

Rating: ****

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