This madcap monster melee is a fun, relentless, action-packed-roller-coaster-ride of a movie that still delights.
I Revisited this tribute to the Universal monster-horror films of the 1930’s-1940’s last night, and it still holds up as an entertaining way to spend some time enjoying seasonal entertainment. The setting of the film is the late 19th century, making it a steampunk extravaganza rich in visual imagery.
The movie, written and directed by Stephen Sommers, has been justifiably labeled as an over-the-top CGI fest. I am one of those that doesn’t have an issue with this.
The film begins in black and white, confirming its role as a tribute to the early 20th century classics, where we meet Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and Frankenstein, in the latter’s castle laboratory, beautifully depicted in all its 19th-century splendor. He has just succeeded in his attempt to bring life to his creation. The Monster (Schuler Hensley) in this case is nicely portrayed as more of a technological marvel and more cyborg-like in appearance. There are openings in his head and over his heart that reveal his inner workings to be electronic, portrayed in the form of electrical currents spanning gaps in his hardware. Dracula betrays and kills the inventor immediately. He has other plans for the monster in regards to creating an army of vampire followers. Also present is Igor, (Kevin J O’Connor) Dracula’s confederate in the betrayal, who we see more of later in the film
The next scene, in which we meet the titular character Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman), and all the scenes that follow are in vibrant, full color. He is on a mission to end the violent, homicidal habits of a gigantic CGI version of Mr. Hyde, who has apparently been out of control and indulging his violent tendencies across Europe. The confrontation is a forecast of what to expect from the rest of the film. It’s a spectacular battle that rages across Rome’s rooftops and doesn’t end well for Hyde.
What I enjoy a great deal about the approach this film takes, among other things, is a combination of the setting combined with the take on Jackman’s character. He is a sort of combination 19th century James Bond (definitely with a license to kill), and Indiana Jones. His appearance in a long black leather coat and big brimmed hat, adds to this caricature of the film’s protagonist. The whole movie is almost cartoon-like in nature., which I liked a lot.
We next find out he’s a sort of a gun for hire that works for a secretive combined organization of religious orders that intervene in world matters when it’s decided action is needed. It is also revealed Van Helsing has amnesia. At this point, we meet the friar Carl (David Wenham), who plays a significant role in the movie as Van Helsing’s sidekick. He’s there for support and weaponry. He’s an inventor and technician, a kind of “Q” to Jackman’s Bond.
Van Helsing receives an assignment about Dracula and to assist in the redemption of a specific family’s bloodline. The scene shifts to Transylvania (where else?) where Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) and her brother Velkan are attempting to capture a local nuisance in the form of a werewolf. Things go wrong, and Velkan is apparently killed by the creature as they fall off a very steep and high cliff. There seems to be no shortage of steep, high cliffs in the region.
Next, when Van Helsing and Carl arrive in the very same Transylvanian village where Anna and Velkan are from, they are met by a hostile, and threatening crowd, it is Anna who prevents their arrival from turning violent. Anna is smoking hot, dressed in skintight pants, knee-high boots, and a leather corset that all help accentuate her womanly features. At this point, the gloomy village is almost immediately attacked by Dracula’s brides. (Silvia Colloca, Josie Maran, Elena Anaya) The three vampire women are formidable and challenging opponents who can transform into bat-like creatures with human female features at will. When the sun makes a brief appearance, they vanish, but when the clouds again cover the sun, they immediately return. The three brides come close to stealing the show and have a great deal of screen time, which adds to the movie’s enjoyment. Upon their arrival, bedlam ensues, and the village gets thrown into chaos. The scene is a promise of the almost relentless action that follows. Van Helsing manages to kill one of the troublesome trio by dipping his machine gun like crossbow in holy water. This is the first scene in which we see another appealing aspect of the film. The steampunk tech used by Van Helsing is a delightful addition to the story. He has more gadgets than James Bond, and they save his ass on multiple occasions. A very handy and convenient assortment of toys.
So the story continues to unfold, and there are twists and turns. Some more surprising than others, but almost magically the plethora of storylines end up in a neatly woven and satisfying conclusion. It’s a story I enjoyed, which always helps. A fun movie, well worth watching again.