Van Helsing (12A)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner06/05/2004

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 132 mins

Although all the usual criticisms apply (it’s too long; there’s some dodgy CGI; parts of it are painfully bad), as Big Dumb Fun Blockbusters go, Van Helsing is actually quite enjoyable, provided you’re not averse to a little canon-messing.

Van Helsing seems like the natural choice for director Stephen Sommers, who has already done the ‘revamp a classic Universal Monster’ thing with The Mummy and its godawful sequel. At any rate there are revamps galore here, some of which might upset Monster Canon Purists. However, if you’re prepared to overlook the canon-messing, plus the odd bit of crap dialogue or dodgy CGI, then Van Helsing is surprisingly enjoyable, with several impressive action set pieces.

Early Homage To The Classics

The film opens with a nifty black and white homage to the classic Universal movies, as the Universal logo first turns black and white and then bursts into flames and becomes an Angry Villager’s torch. The Angry Villager is part of a mob storming Castle Frankenstein, inside which are Victor von Frankenstein, the Monster (Shuler Hensley), Igor (Kevin J. O’Connor) and, er, Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and his Brides (Elena Anaya, Silvia Colloca and Josie Maran). The Monster escapes and is pursued by the Angry Villagers (“Look! He’s headed for the windmill!”) and Dracula seems very annoyed for some reason.

After the, frankly, superb prologue, we move to Paris and meet Van Helsing: Monster Slayer to the Vatican (Hugh Jackman) as he goes after a hulking, Glaswegian, Dodgy CGI Mr Hyde. It quickly transpires that this Van Helsing is no doddery old geezer, like Peter Cushing before him, but rather a sort of James Bond-slash-Indiana Jones type figure (complete with stylish hat). He’s also, oddly, a lot like Wolverine from the X-Men, in that they both have a slightly feral temperament and murky pasts that they can’t quite remember.

Anyway, the Vatican order Van Helsing to travel to Transylvania and kill Dracula. He even gets his own Q, in the form of David Wenham’s Carl The Friar, who kits him out with, amongst other things, a steam-powered, rapid-fire crossbow, a spinning crucifix and a long-range grappling hook.

Ancient Curse Needs Lifted

Once in Transylvania, Van Helsing hooks up with Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale in corset and Comedy Accent), one of the last of a royal family, bent on ending an ancient curse by killing Dracula and his Brides. They then discover a) that the Monster is alive and actually quite a nice chap, and b) that in addition to offing Dracula and his Brides, they also have to kill the Wolf Man, who just happens to be –D’oh!- Anna’s brother (Will Kemp).

The plot is gloriously ridiculous (Dracula needs both the Wolf Man and the Monster’s life force for his own Nefarious Purposes) but it has at least been well thought-out and obeys its own internal consistency. The film may be overlong (though, at a mere 132 minutes, it’s shorter than Troy, Harry Potter 3 or The Day After Tomorrow), but Sommers never lets it drag, piling one impressive set-piece on top of another and cramming the action with tried and tested swashbuckling staples such as people swinging on chandelier ropes, or trying to stop runaway coaches.

The script is also pretty daring in places and isn’t afraid to pull a few unconventional twists, though one in particular will infuriate Monster Purists.

Thinking Person’s Action Hero

The acting is as good as you’d expect – Jackman makes a decent lead and proves that he’s the man to fill Harrison Ford’s ‘thinking person’s action hero’ shoes. Beckinsale is also more convincing as an action heroine here than she was in Underworld (which, coincidentally, shares part of its Werewolves vs Vampires mythology with Van Helsing).

Roxburgh is good value as Dracula (making full use of his anti-gravity proclivities) and there’s great comic relief from both David Wenham (“Actually, I’m just a Friar, so…”, he says, when a recently-rescued wench asks how she can repay him) and Kevin J. O’Connor as the treacherous Igor.

However, the real star of the film is Shuler Hensley as Frankenstein’s Monster, who manages to wring both comedy and bathos from the role. He’s also brilliantly designed, with both a glowing, electric brain and heart, as well as a steam-powered leg.

To be fair, the film has more than its fair share of dodgy moments – one particularly awful scene just has Dracula and his Brides screaming at each other and it’s a mystery as to why this scene wasn’t cut. Similarly, the big romantic scene is unwisely played for laughs and there are some moments that are just plain stupid (a mid-transformation werewolf somehow managing to stay glued to a wall; a werewolf setting fire to a coach-top just by landing on it), as well as some awful lines (“Is this your silver stake?”), but it’s probably fair to say that for every awful bit you remember as you leave the cinema, you’ll also remember a really good bit.

In short, Van Helsing isn’t anything like the disaster it was rumoured to be, or the disaster it could have been. Indeed, if you don’t take it too seriously, it’s actually pretty good fun. That said, a sequel would probably be a bad idea – after all, lightning only strikes the same place twice when it’s being harnessed to create an army of monsters. Or something.

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Content updated: 21/09/2018 03:47

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