Hugh Jackman is a great actor. You wouldn’t think that after watching Van Helsing. Well, that’s if you do actually watch this film. I vaguely remember watching this film a few years ago and this time round my memory was revitalised. I’m not sure where or why I watched this film last time, and I’m not sure why I watched it this time either. Now I must preface this review with the warning that I watched this film with my dad. Why do I have to warn you about that? Because as I was writing my notes my dad would decide to scream at random points in the film in an attempt to scare me. It worked once or twice, so for that I apologise.
Characters within this film ranged from solid heroes (Van Helsing) to comical scapegoats (Friar Carl) and of course, an enjoyable anti-hero (Frankenstein’s monster). But oddly enough, the villain of the film is downright hilarious. I do mean hilarious in a bad way of course. Count Dracula, played by Richard Roxburgh, is a pretty bad and strange performance. I think this is most probably because of the utterly ridiculous accent put on by Roxburgh. He’s got a ponytail, so we know not only he is the villain, but he’s also a bit of a dick too. To be honest his performance was something resemblant of The Count from Sesame Street (1969 – Ongoing) It’s not just Roxburgh though, the three wives of Dracula are equally as overacted and silly. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re a vampire though, you have no real understanding of acting.
Also, what the hell was up with Dracula’s minion things, They’re featured frequently throughout the film but honestly don’t serve much of a threat. To my recollection, we never see Van Helsing or any of the heroes attack any of them. If I’m honest they sort of look like weird Jawa things from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). Hell, forget the Jawa comparison, they look like they’ve been ripped out of an old episode of Doctor Who (1963 – 1989). Give them their own TV Show and we’ll see them battling some much more fitting heroes. Actually, get rid of both of those analogies, they’re evil Oompa-Loompas from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).
Still, if you thought The Count from Sesame Street and his harem were bad, they’re nothing compared to Valkin. Valkin was a sort of cross between every burly white male from the mid 2000s crossed with Tommy Wiseau’s acting abilities. Long story short his performance was so bad it was bad. Luckily, and this isn’t a spoiler, he’s culled off rather quickly. So quickly in fact you could forgive him for being such a bad actor. But no, he keeps popping back up as a bloody anti-hero/borderline villain that’s eventually put down by Van Helsing, thank God!
Much like Resident Evil (2002), the film had a definitely strong start. I really enjoyed the black and white opening scenes, the cinematography in that was divine, it truly was. Of course, it didn’t take long for the film to undermine these well crafted opening scenes. Presumably the black and white was used to present a feeling of a past long forgotten, but then the film flips the colour and heads only one year into the future. What’s the point in presenting the past in black and white if it’s the very close past? I most certainly enjoyed the black and white opening, but couldn’t appreciate it much when the film undermined it within the first ten minutes.
Bear in mind that his film released in 2004, that means there’ll be a lot of CGI. Surprisingly, it’s not all that bad. If I’m honest the first bit of CGI we see within this film is for Mr. Hyde (voiced by Robbie Coltrane), is very good. There’s a specific attention to detail that I like with CGI in action sequences, and this part of the film really highlights why I enjoy them. What I also noticed in the same scene is that, for a bounty hunter, Van Helsing is a really bad shot. The opening action sequence is very enjoyable though, a back and forth fight that was choreographed very well. It ended quite surprisingly too, you can’t just kill off famed monsters from history. Still, I’m pretty sure this was just done to have ourselves a good old Monster Mash. No, not that type of mash.
Actually, I’ll give some credit where it’s due, the CGI as a whole is very appealing and extraordinary to look at. Werewolves are frequent in this film and I’d argue they’ve never looked better. Some enemies are simply 100% CGI, take the Vampire babies for example, and they’re done with a certain perfection. On top of that, the film as a whole was just visually appealing in general. Dracula’s castle is, quite simply, an absolute awe to witness. Actually, most of the castles in the film manage to capture the gothic tone rather well. Unfortunately other parts of the film take the gothic tone as “dark and gloomy, as little lighting as possible”.
I’m genuinely not sure what tone this film was trying to take. The opening overall is rather comedic. Get over the dark and gloomy action sequences and we’re presented some comedic fun with Friar Carl in The Vatican. Honestly that bit was like Ye Olde James Bond. Helsing could be Bond, Carl can be Q for the amount of gadgets Helsing is given. Christ I thought I was watching a spin off of Bond at this rate. Unfortunately not. Throughout the entire film we’re treated to these comedic segments and sometimes they’re even intertwined with the action. For some reason, the film has a certain twinkle in its eye and it really can’t afford to do so. Although I get the willingness to feel light hearted in areas, the way it is done here really messes with the overall tone of the film.
Action films frequently break the basic laws of physics. More power to them I suppose. Every film can have a few lucky escapes for a character that may seem illogical, but you cannot base your entire film on these moments, like what is done here. I’ve written down a few key moments in the film where it completely lost me simply because it was absurdly stupid. For example, managing to fall off of a roof and through a tree with extremely expert precision. Cuts and bruises begone!
I suppose that’d cost a lot more in the makeup department, but there was no actual recognition that the character had received so much as a scratch. On top of that, I never thought I’d watch a film where Frankenstein flings himself with an electric cable a good few kilometres. No, not metres, he literally swings from one end of a castle to another.
Were shotguns around in the 1800s? Well, they were, but not double barrelled shotguns, right? On top of that, how much coincidence can you cram into one film? As soon as Van Helsing and co. have found Dracula’s children, it’s at the exact same time as hatching begins. A plot should never rely on coincidence, it should always work around it as best it can to keep a fresh plot. Also, was the grappling hook invented in the 1800s? And if so how the hell does it reach up to five kilometres. There is no way Van Helsing shot that grappling hook directly into a tree trunk from that far away. I’m calling bullshit on that one at the very least.
Have your gravity defying trees, but I don’t for a second believe he shot a grappling hook at a tree from so far away when he couldn’t shoot Mr Hyde with two pistols from five feet away. Have you seen the size of Mr. Hyde? Exactly.
Towards the end of the film, Carl tries to explain everything that has transpired so far. If I’m honest not even I knew what the hell was going on. The last half hour of the film is a genuine blur for me. Helsing and friends go through a magic mirror thing, kill Dracula, something else happens, roll credits. All of a sudden Van Helsing was a werewolf and could super jump higher than Mario on mushrooms. It just didn’t make any sense, not that the film had made any sense up to that point anyways. There’s a literal fight between the comedy characters, Igor and Carl. Igor dies, he trips over a tripwire that’s being ridden by Frankenstein’s monster. No, I have no idea what I’ve just written but that’s genuinely what happens.
It does surprise me that I was annoyed by the lack of realism in a film all about Werewolves and Vampires. However let me be clear, I do love a good fantasy feature, just not this one. Defying gravity, the ability to flip your aim from Stormtrooper like to American Sniper at a moments notice, I cannot buy that. All in all, the film mashes more monsters than Bobby Pickett managed (Google it), and it simply can’t cope with the large variety on display. Zombies are in this film, but you literally never see them, yet they’re such a large part of the plot. It’s a harmless film, it’s just a two hour festival of mindless violence. That’s a good thing to be fair, but a good plot can go a long way, it would’ve been the saving grace of this mediocre action flick.