Starring: Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham
By now most people have picked up on who Van Helsing is. Taken from the tales of Count Dracula, Stephen Sommers, the director, has cast Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) back into modern fantasy horror as he battles the enigmatic Dracula and his werewolves. Van Helsing is summoned to Transylvania, by the secret society he works for, to help a damsel in distress: Anna Valerious (Beckinsale) is the end of a line of a family sworn to kill Count Dracula or never rest in peace. First we see Van Helsing set the scene as a rogue monster hunter, seen as a murderer by those who do not understand his purpose. Then we see Anna lose her brother to the curse of the werewolf, before the knight in (less than) shining armour bursts unwanted upon the scene to help stave off an attack on the town by Dracula's three wives. The rest is relatively predictable except for the part played by Frankenstein's misunderstood monster.
So that's the gist. If only that was the end of the story. Van Helsing was a disappointment to me almost as colossal as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, to which it bears some uncanny resemblances. What both have in common is some good characters to play with and some exceptional acting talent. They also have in common the fact that they are exercises in special effects - to the extent of obliterating anything else good about the films. There is no mistaking the graphic ingenuity of the horror effects in Van Helsing: Dracula is truly frightening in his worse moments, with the huge pincer spike teeth and the elongating jaws - truly terrifying. And the seamless changes from beautiful women to hideous clawed flying monsters is astounding for the Draccy babes (Elena Anaya, Silvia Colloca and Josie Maran). But what is meant to be scary is so over the top that it ends up just being laughable. (Rather like the great ship the Nautilus in 'League' aiming to be impressive so much so that it is bigger than the entire city of London, making it a mammoth joke).
The best moments in Van Helsing are provided by Carl ( David Wenham), the comedic 'friar' that accompanies Van Helsing on his quest, to provide the brains to the brawn. (Wenham may be most easily recognisable to most people as Faramir from LoTR films). Richard Roxburgh is almost made for the part of Dracula, he is just as evil as he is as the Duke in Moulin Rouge - but with SFX wings and teeth. Strangely though, what is interesting about this film in a fantasy horror genre is the blurred distinction between good and evil: not to be too philosophical, but all Dracula wants is to be able to have living children and Van Helsing himself doesn't have a squeaky clean past. Some of this debate is arguably tied up in the inclusion of Frankenstein's monster's story; however the allusions to Van Helsing's past are never cleared up and I feel half the story must have hit the editing room floor, leaving parts of the tale vague and confused.
I can't bring myself to say anything bad against Hugh Jackman, it is just a pity that this role resembled the character of Wolverine (XMen) so much that it is hard to see a distinct difference in his acting talents. Kate Beckinsale backs up Jackman effortlessly as the strong-willed and beautiful Anna but her presence in between vampires and werewolves seems to be a running theme, casting one's mind back to Underworld a little too strongly. In fact, what with the design of Mr Hyde in the opening sequence and the lycanthropic metamorphosis scenes, you can hardly be blamed for thinking this is a botched conglomeration of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Underworld.