If there’s one lasting impression “Van Helsing” leaves, it’s that Hugh Jackman can definitely hold his own as an action hero. Given the right vehicle, this man could go from being a big star to a superstar all on his own merit. “Van Helsing” is not that vehicle though, rather it’s an embarassing foot wrong start to what may promise to be another Summer silly season if this is any indicator.
Admittedly going in I was expecting a car wreck, this is after all a Stephen Sommers movie – the man behind “Deep Rising” and both “Mummy” movies. Whilst ‘Deep’ and the first ‘Mummy’ at least had a sense of playful fun combined in their all too CG action, the ‘Mummy’ sequel was a woefully bloated piece which kept going far too much into excess, lacked any humour and made the first film’s script seem genius in comparison. “Van Helsing” is about the same as ‘Returns’ if not worse, in other words the last act of LXG spread over two+ hours. Sommers is like a kid who’s just discovered masturbation, he just cannot control himself and has to keep doing things bigger, wilder and ultimately dumber – long past the point of reason or madness.
There’s a vague script and the odd clumsy attempt at exposition to try and make the characters credible, but they’re simply pauses in between the CG fights. ‘Van’ is essentially half an animated movie with shockingly cartoonish CG effects in practically every shot. Thus the fights come one after another between the brides and our heroes, Drac and our heroes, the constantly popping up Wolf Man, etc. that by the hour mark you’re already bored with all the cheap one-on-ones and want something different.
Yes, there are some attempts to bring other types of action into play, most notably a lot of high flying/swinging action set pieces, but when you know your leads are all CG and doing things that don’t even look vaguely real it becomes flat and dull. There’s one sequence around a stone bridge at Drac’s castle where Beckinsale, Frankenstein, etc. are all swinging around with ease and no inertia on cables that have to be miles long, are attached to what must be mid-air, and are easily viewable on a dark and stormy night. That’s how silly this all gets, wirework has SO much to answer for.
Hugh Jackman may be able to hold his own but not by much. It’s not his fault though, the man is stuck with an essentially humourless character which actually manages to do something surprising – suck out most of his natural charm and charisma and leave him with as much personality as Arnie in the first Terminator. Kate Beckinsale pretty much reprises her “Underworld” character but with a Donatella Versace riding outfit and horrid accent. David Wenham as the bumbling Q-like sidekick Carl is sadly underused, Richard Roxburgh yet again does a horrid over the top unthreatening baddie like his LXG & “Moulin Rouge” work, and Will Kemp does his best in a thankless role as Kate’s brother who spends most of the time oiled up and in a loincloth (so, no complaints here).
So what works? A James Whale inspired black & white opening sequence is a cool little start. Alan Silvestri’s score does stand out with its use of classical guitar mixed into the booming orchestral pieces. The production design is nicely elaborate at times (ie. the fancy dress ball, the cityscapes, etc.) and the reinvention of the old Universal monsters are good ideas on paper (on screen Mr. Hyde proves surprisingly cool). Sadly all the good is lost amidst the cacophony of trying to be the biggest and stupidest film ever made, there’s barely a cohesive story let alone any understanding of the concepts of subtlety and depth. This one’s a real howler.