hugh jackman in van helsing 2004 movie

Reasons to Watch Van Helsing (2004) – An 1800s James Bond

A shorter article as opposed to a review, giving reasons to watch Van Helsing by drawing comparisons to other mainstays in popular film culture.https://youtu.be/3fdRKme00uI

Tomatometer: 23% Audience Score: 57% IMDb: 6.1 

Without much trouble, I will say that Van Helsing was a difficult watch. It was disappointing given my recent interest in mythical creatures and vampire lore, reignited once I finished reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Despite my personal feelings, picking out some elements of the film worth noting could convince some viewers to revisit the 2004 movie starring Hugh Jackman as the titular monster hunter.

The premise on its own is fascinating, looking at Count Dracula’s interest in Dr. Frankenstein’s morbid science experiment, creating life from the dead. A secret order of the Vatican sends Van Helsing to Transylvania to investigate and obstruct the vampire’s plans.

So why might you want to watch Van Helsing?

Van Helsing trailer

James Bond of the 1800s

The setup of the movie, walking us through Van Helsing’s character, paints a portrait of a rather inefficient Vatican employee. After taking care of the infamous Dr. Hyde in Paris, Van Helsing returns to Rome and visits Cardinal Jinette (Alun Armstrong). His most recent contract killing created quite the stir. As Jinette puts it,

“Your results are unquestionable, but your methods attract far too much attention.”

The attention here refers to the destruction of the Rose Window, over 600 years old. To draw upon a loose analogy, he could be described as the James Bond of the 1800s, without the womanizing, however. Bond himself brings a significant amount of attention, delivering results, but with an undue amount of collateral damage. Just ask the countless romantic partners left dead in his wake, along with the damage and destruction to property.

But the more appropriate comparison comes in the form of gadgetry. This secret Holy Order established to protect the realm of mortals has a division dedicated to science and technology, and here resides David Wenham’s Carl, the 1800s equivalent of Bond’s Q. He walks Van Helsing through all the latest instruments, which includes a gas-propelled crossbow capable of much more than an ordinary weapon.

One of the differences with Carl, though, is that he accompanies Van Helsing to Transylvania on his expedition, putting forth a display of fear and fragility we don’t see with Q. Q is restrained and hidden away. Carl is not.

By all accounts, you can look at this iteration of Van Helsing and complain that he’s been bastardized. It’s a reimagining of him in a campy action hero light, and this could only appeal to a particular segment of the population, most kids I presume.

Vad-is-lav

Another prominent hallmark of the film is the thick, heavy, Eastern European accents. This could have passed under the radar if two leading actors weren’t British and Australian. Kate Beckinsale plays Anna Valerious, the last remaining member of a family destined, or somewhat doomed, to eliminate Dracula. Dracula himself is played by Richard Roxburgh, mostly recognized for his appearances in Buz Luhrmann’s films.

It has to be said that actors and actresses are most certainly capable of pulling off different accents and dialects. British actors are notorious for being highly convincing Americans. Think of Henry Cavill in almost any film. But the Eastern European and Russian accents are those that receive a fair amount of mockery in Western society, much like how Westerners love to imitate Indian accents. That’s what Beckinsale’s and Roxburgh’s efforts feel like in Van Helsing.

It comes across as if the actors were winging it, providing their best Transylvanian demeanors after a couple of drinks at the pub. It’s one of the pitfalls of being a celebrity, when people instantly recognize your appearance and voice, making it almost impossible to separate the actor from the character, more so with Beckinsale here.

This issue won’t help you immerse yourself in the story, but you will have more than the desired number of giggles in the process. Van Helsing guarantees laughs of the unintended kind.

Monster Carnival

Looking at other areas of the film draw quick comparisons to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. The production design is highly comic, though this might have been attributed to the nascent stages of CGI use in the early 2000s. The interiors are dark and gloomy, ideally fitting for a dark and Gothic time period. Perhaps this is why the Batman comparisons emerge, reminding me quite frequently of Burton-esque undertones in the design and visual aesthetics.

But if we go back to Schumacher’s Batman, Van Helsing showcases an arsenal of villains. Vampires, baby flying vampires, werewolves, goblin-like minions, ghouls, freak experiments and disfigured humans. Van Helsing has his hands full, much like Schumacher’s Batman who contended with Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, and Bane to name a few.

All these appearances will overwhelm the senses, especially with the heavy reliance on CGI. Viewers keen on a honed and sharpened narrative will be let down, but those looking for endless entertainment with some wild action sequences, exciting and comedic, will find plenty to love here.

Conclusion

Van Helsing really wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’ve done my utmost to find some silver linings that might appeal to audiences. It can feel mindless and mindnumbing, too, but that’s because of my aversion to action-heavy movies. Granted, there are some films like Mad Max: Fury Road, where the action is neverending yet never dull. Van Helsing isn’t that movie. It incorporates characters, monsters, and sequences that are in part, or wholly derivative.

I suppose in retrospect, looking back now in 2018, we’ve seen movies like this a thousand times. But there can be little delights sprinkled throughout Van Helsing, like fake European accents and an assortment of devilish monsters. For a campy, hokey, and meaningless kind of fun, Van Helsing would be a perfect movie to digest.

If you like action and adventure movies, check out these other reviews

Sankha started Not So Rotten because his friends didn’t like Mortdecai. He has yet to review the film for the website.

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