No doubt you've heard of 'Van Helsing' several times by now, there's not much chance you could have missed it. Universal's dive into summer cost 'em around 160 million dollars, with another 50m in marketing expenditures. Stephen Sommer's love affair with Universal's creature flicks of the 40's & 50's got started with his very successful 'The Mummy' franchise, and kicks into overdrive with 'Van Helsing'.
Eschewing most elements of the 'Van Helsing' character from Bram Stoker's 'Dracula', Sommer's has written Jackman into the role of ferocious background with a stunning (read: laughable) past. 2004's version of Van Helsing is all about the action, and he's not just concerned with 'ol Dracula anymore. VH is a secret agent for the catholic church, and his mission is to seek out and destroy evil in all its forms. After dispatching Mr. Hyde in London and consequently killing Dr. Jekyll, Van Helsing runs back to Vatican City to cry about his bad reputation and how hard his job is. Nevertheless, he's given a new assignment. Down the road in Transylvania , Dracula's firing up a ruckus. His ancient enemies and allies of the Church, the Valerius family, are now on the verge of extinction.
Van Helsing is off to the rescue, but not before he drops in Bond style into the special weapons division, and picks up some gadgets, such as a fully automatic assault ... crossbow. Then he's off to defeat the evil Count, and make some time with the delectable Anna Valerius (Beckinsale). Easier said than done however, as Dracula - in true 50's mentality - sends his three luscious brides to do his dirty work, stymieing our wise-cracking hero at every turn. He also fields an undead army, as well as the services of the Wolfman! Not to mention the possibility of Frankenstein's monster roaming the countryside. If that wasn't enough, VH must also stand against the most formidable foe of all: The dreaded Vampire Babies! Their only weaknesses are buckets, and closed windows. And shotguns, and spontaneous combustion... Devious!
So the plot isn't the strongest point of 'VH'. It's needlessly complex, and hopelessly nonsensical. If you haven't figured out that the storyline is just a means to tie several actions sequences together, then this isn't the movie for you. Although there's plenty of accommodation in terms of idiocy for a movie of this nature, 'Van Helsing' manages to out-stupid itself a few times, which can make for some irritating viewing. At least it's pretty though.
Sommer's puts his ridiculous budget to good use for the most part. The movie's practically dripping with CG, and usually it's used to quite good effect. The architecture of the various locations is exquisite, and it also works quite nicely in some of the creature shots. Although the direction is an amalgamation of visual cliches, there's enough mood and money to make things pretty attractive. Even so, it's likely that there's entirely too much reliance on CG, and the filmmakers seem bent on creating action sequences that are obviously beyond current technology. As a result, a few battle sequences look almost cartoony as the enemies are virtually over-animated, and the motion is irregular. All in all, it's hard to believe how much this movie cost.
The real draw here are the aforementioned creatures, and they've been nicely conceived and generally well portrayed (aside from the CG issues). It may seem a bit silly to have Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Dracula and Jekyll/Hyde in a single movie... scratch that, it is silly. But silly's ok, as 'Van Helsing' never pretends to be anything more than it is - a mindless no-holds-barred massive summer action flick. If that's what you're looking for, that's exactly what you're going to get. It's fun to see a modern take on Frankenstein's monster, and the werewolf is well done (if not uniquely). Dracula however has been pretty radically changed - Gone are his susceptibility to the trusty wooden stake, crosses, holy water, garlic, all things of that nature. His only weakness has yet to be discovered, and it's pretty lame when it is - even for a movie like 'Van Helsing'. It really depends on the audience as to whether the change is for better or for worse.
The acting isn't all that impressive through 'Van Helsing', which is a bit of a shame. It's always nice to have believable performances in this epic action movies, or at least some enjoyable one liners. 'Van Helsing' isn't exactly awash in either of these. Jackman just does Wolverine all over again (Amnesia included!) and Beckinsale doesn't have much to work with. All Anna Valerius does is get dropped on the ground several times, and unfortunately - talk an awful lot. Unfortunate because she has one of the most atrocious accents in recent memory. This is beyond camp - we're through the looking glass here. In fact, almost everyone except Jackman is happy to run their terrible lines through a mangled accent. And speaking of camp, we have Roxburgh's portrayal of Dracula. Sure, it's a good fit for the Count of three or four decades ago - but now one can't help but notice his resemblance to any number of 70's/80's glam musicians. It makes for an interesting effect, to say the least.
'Van Helsing's biggest nemesis is audience expectation. It seems everyone these days thinks that every single movie released has to be an earth-shattering drama complete with amazing action and irrefutable logic. 'Van Helsing' is not one of these movies, and it was never meant to be. Sure, it could have been much smarter, as well as a lot funnier, but as it is it's not terrible. It's a film that you can sit back and enjoy on the surface of your mind. The explosions are loud, the lights are bright, Kate Beckinsale runs a lot (for the boys), Hugh Jackman takes his shirt off (for the girls), and the werewolf is real furry (you know who you are). That should be enough to make any action fan happy, at least for a little while.