Film Review: Another Look at ‘Van Helsing’

One of our regular reviews Lyle didn’t like Universal’s Van Helsing (read his review here), but Mike Periera and I both had a blast during the action-packed 131 minutes! Inside you’ll find Mike’s review of Stephen Sommers film that kicked started the summer movie madness!
Review by Mike Periera

The summer blockbuster movie season has officially begun! What better way to kick things off but with a massive and really expensive ode to the classic Universal monsters. Van Helsing is writer/director, Stephen Sommers’ latest exercise in the theory that when it comes to thrill rides, bigger is better. He has devoted the majority of his career in reviving the B-Movie. Hollywood blockbusters are essentially B-Flicks disguised as A-Films. But what makes a Sommers film succeed where so many summer extravaganzas fail, is that he clearly embraces the fun spirit in which such classics like the Universal monster flicks and the 1930′s Flash Gordon serials possessed. With such top-notch entertainment such as Deep Rising, The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, Sommers plain and simply wants to take filmgoers on a rollercoaster ride.

Van Helsing’s premise is a dream for fans of the Universal monsters. It cleverly brings together Dracula, Wolfman and the Frankenstein monster into one film. Hunting them down is Dracula’s old rival, Gabriel Van Helsing. He is a monster hunter who works for a secret organization that is bent on ridding the world with all that is evil. The plot gets extremely thick but don’t worry, Sommers ingeniously tucks exposition throughout the film without ever losing momentum. The plot gets quite silly but you have to admire the amount of detail that it throws at you. There are great twists on the classic mythology of these beloved characters. Creating mythologies has always been one of Sommers’ strengths. There is definitely no lack of story here which is refreshing for a blockbuster.

The cast is a great deal of fun. Hugh Jackman plays Van Helsing as a man that is driven by the need to unlock his mysterious past, no matter what the cost. He injects the role with the perfect blend of heroism, humor and vulnerability. Kate Beckinsale is equally as good as Anna Valerious. She has more to play with in this supporting role than she had as a lead in the empty borefest, Underworld. She holds her own nicely in the film’s many action sequences. Richard Roxburgh has been heavily criticized for his performance of Dracula. He certainly does an awful lot of scenery chewing but I found it to be in perfect synch with the film’s overall “in your face” tone. His Dracula is deliciously “over the top”. David Wenham also, gives a fun performance as Carl, a Q-like character. But the majority of laughs come from none other than Sommers regular, Kevin J. O’Connor as Igor. Once again he steals every single scene he’s in. The man is a comic genius!

Van Helsing is packed with an endless amount of visual effects. You see every penny on the screen. The CG work by ILM is top notch as always especially the Wolfman and Mr. Hyde. Every shot is filled with incredible detail. The Wolfman’s morphing effects is some of the most incredible stuff I’ve ever seen! The make-up effects are great as well especially the Frankenstein monster. His look is a throwback to the original Boris Karloff look while staying uniquely its own. The production and costume designs are stunning. The sets are a throwback to the huge scope that were visible in Universal’s Dracula and Frankenstein films. Alan Silvestri delivers another memorable score that complements the visuals perfectly. The sound design is as intense as it gets. This is easily the loudest film of all time. You might want to bring ear plugs just in case.

Despite having a running time of 131 minutes, Van Helsing never overstays its welcome. Sommers successfully juggles the plot and action without losing the film’s unrelenting pace. While the humor is not in the caliber of The Mummy films, there is still enough laughs to satisfy. The area in which Sommers outdoes himself is in the action department. Van Helsing is jammed packed with some of the most thrilling and inventive action sequences I’ve seen in quite some time. Each one takes it up a notch without ever getting repetitive or tiresome. One single set piece here would easily surpass climaxes from most summer blockbusters.

Van Helsing starts this summer movie season in high gear. It’s an intense thrill machine from start to finish. To dissect it would be utterly pointless. The film’s main goal is to entertain and should be judged on those merits alone. It’s essentially a 160 million B-Movie and proud of it. Sommers has not only created an affectionate homage to the Universal monsters but has inserted enough fresh imagination and for it to stand out on its own. The black and white opening sequence alone is worth the price of admission. Just sit back and have a hell of a lot of fun.

I give Van Helsing 8 out of 10 Skulls!