Van Helsing is Wonderfully Fun B-Movie
The biggest problem that Van Helsing had was that despite being a very enjoyable film to watch, people went into it not knowing what to expect. This movie is about Van Helsing, a man who operates as part of a secret group operating from the Vatican. Their mission is to set out to the world in order to deal with supernatural threats. The film’s opening sequence, showcasing Van Helsing chasing down Mr. Hyde using a variety of specialized weapons and gadgets, establishes the kind of hunting that Helsing’s group deals with. The film progresses rather quickly, introducing audiences to the world and quickly sending off Helsing on a mission to dispatch Dracula.
Homages and Innovations
Viewers don’t really need to know much backstory for the film: Dracula is a vampire, the werewolves are lycanthropes, and Frankenstein’s monster still lives. Most of the basic supernatural beliefs hold true and the film does not attempt to deviate from any of this at all.
As the plot goes, Dracula is seeking out a way to create and preserve life. As it turns out, while he has a lot of vampire brides, none of them are able to provide Dracula with a child (as far as this movie goes, vampires do give birth, but only to stillborns). So the ancient vampire is trying to harness the power of his ancient enemies, the werewolves in order to reverse this effect.
In the meanwhile, Van Helsing must help the heirs of the Valerious family defeat Dracula –for until they fulfill their families’ duty, the souls of their entire bloodline will not be allowed to enter the gates of Heaven. Story-wise, there’s actually a lot of depth here. Even Dracula’s motivations are not strictly about being evil for the sake of being evil (but he does have his creepy and sneery moments).
A surprising addition to the story is Frankenstein’s monster, who as it turns out, was co-created by Dracula himself (who sought to use Frankenstein’s research for his own ends). However, Dracula betrays the doctor, and the chaos that follows has led many to believe that all the research and the monster has been destroyed. Since the monster itself is not inherently evil, Helsing chooses not to destroy it, but to help it instead. In so doing, the vampire hunter has earned a very unlikely ally in his battle against Dracula.
All the Right Elements
The trio of Van Velshing, Anna Valerious, and Frankenstein’s monster is a fun group. Hugh Jackman takes on the role of the grizzled hunter with gusto, and Kate Beckinsale is very much at home in the genre (with the first Underworld film already been a released a year prior to this). The narrative does not get too caught up in their individual character histories, but it does divulge enough to ‘put all the pieces into play’ so to speak. Like with many stories, each character in the film, from Helsing to Dracula, is more inter-linked than initially shown.
Richard Roxburgh’s Dracula, however, is a very forgettable character. Aside from having a harem of brides, this film’s version of Vlad fails to be anything spectacular and borders more on the side of typical Saturday morning cartoon villain flair. Of course, this is less a problem with the performance (Roxburgh manages to give his very undead character a sense of being larger than life), but that of the screenplay itself.
The Semi-Original Hero
Despite the fact that the narrative itself is inspired heavily by the Bram Stoker novel, this film’s Van Helsing is very unique character. From the crazy steampunk style guns to the Quaker-cowboy outfit mashup, it would be easy to imagine Helsing in a comic or game of his own. The whole ‘secret Vatican group’ is a pretty cool idea as well. Sadly, all these wonderful traits makes Helsing a little too similar to Hellboy, an actual comic hero with similar traits, a demonic bloodline, and a film adaptation that released just a few months before Van Helsing did. It didn’t help either that both titular characters wore iconic long trench coats. Still, the movie has to be praised for doing its best to create its own thing –especially in this day and age where new heroes are rare and filmmakers are opting to adopt pre-existing characters (with pre-existing fanbases) instead.