Van Helsing
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Stephen Sommers
with Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, David Wenham, Richard Roxburgh, Shuler Hensley, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp, Kevin J O'Connor, Silvia Colloca, Josie Maran, Alun Armstrong, Samuel West
release US/UK 7.May.04
04/US 2h12

Into the bat's lair: Wenham, Jackman and Beckinsale

jackman beckinsale wenham

Van Helsing Frankenstein
Dracula The Wolf Man

Van Helsing Support Shadows: Buy a Poster
There's only one problem with this thunderously entertaining action romp: The budget is two times too big! There's a great story inside, with intriguing ideas, solid characters and great opportunities for superb stuntwork (as opposed to the overuse of CGI here). But over-the-top production values all but drown it out.

Gabriel Van Helsing (Jackman) is a 19th century monster hunter working for an underground Vatican agency. His latest assignment with gadgety sidekick Carl (Wenham) is a bit more momentous: Count Dracula (Roxburgh), whose destiny is at a key juncture involving Frankenstein's monster (Hensley), a werewolf and the last living member (Beckinsale) of his nemesis' family. Of course, Ana is a Transylvanian babe who catches Van Helsing's eye. And Van Helsing has a history with Dracula that he can't remember at all.

After two and a half Mummy films, we know Sommers is a huge fan of Universal's classic monster movies (besides his two Mummy flicks). The black and white opening segment is shot lovingly and ingeniously links the monsters together. This referential revisionism is great fun, and the characters are cleverly written, with back stories and inner lives that help us connect with them ... although Jackman is the only one who plays it like a human being, and he's excellent as usual. Beckinsale has a stiffly corseted approach to both action mayhem and bosom-heaving; Roxburgh is encouraged to chomp on the scenery and spit it out like a drag queen on acid; Wenham isn't much more than comic relief--he even wears a jester costume for the climactic Halloween ball.

But then everything is too much-- sets are too cavernous, castles are to vertiginous, creatures are too big, action is too ludicrous. There's also far too much belaboured plot exposition, much of it barked or screamed in incomprehensible accents. The rock-star coiffed characters are constantly strapping on weapons that won't help them in their fights. And Sommers uses so much CGI that action sequences are like cartoons--only exciting because of the narrative. But at least the story is a good one! And Sommers packs in enough offhanded humour, plot twists and surprise jolts to keep us on the edge of our seats. Preposterous and over-serious ... and terrific good fun.

cert 12 themes, violence and gore 4.May.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Hannah, Halifax, Nova Scotia: 3.5/5 "As I expected from the first preview, Van Helsing was wonderful and terrible all at the same time. It's one of those movies where I know (a) the plot holes will never, ever be filled in; (b) the heroine will have a bountiful, heaving bosom and somehow be able to kick ass while wearing high-heeled shoes; and (c) where the director is so in love with himself and so enchanted with his CGI team that you can practically see his grinning face superimposed over every shot. And yet, I loved it. A poorly-written, noisy, incomprehensible piece of hot-buttered popcorn - the best way I can think of to start a summer movie season where Brad Pitt doing a dreadful quasi-British accent is actually hotly anticipated." (11.May.04)

Van Helsing Laurie T, Minneapolis: 4/5 "I really like Hugh Jackman. I gotta say this is a very LOUD movie - entertaining and fun, and nonstop action. I would recommend it if you want to go and have fun at the movies - it is like one big rollercoaster ride, nonstop noise. It is one movie I need to see again to catch the parts I probably missed the first time. A lot of fun, and not too scary a monster movie. On the way home we were discussing the possibility of a sequel - since this movie already includes Dracula, Frankenstein and werewolves - all the classic monsters of old - who is left? We speculated that maybe the mummy? Time will tell - but this movie took care of most of the monsters we grew up with in film." (16.May.04)

Phil, Amersham: 4.5/5 "the best film i've seen for ages. i thought the storyline was very good and completely different from all the other vampire/werewolf films i have seen, eg buffy (the series) and wolf! see it you wont be dissapointed." (22.May.04)

2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall