Van Helsing

posted 08 May 2004

This was a fantastic movie.

No, seriously! Let's take it point by point:

  • It was totally, entirely, unnecessarily, completely over the top at all times, in every possible way. The crazy-knob was cranked right up to max, and it was the right thing to do.
  • Okay, the plot was totally unbelievable -- impossibly contrived. But what do you expect from a monster movie? Realism? This movie left realism at the door, and if you do too, then you will love this movie.
  • Nevertheless, the plot contains surprises. I don't know about you, but it's rare that any plot twist surprises me (that rarity explains why Sixth Sense and Fight Club were so popular). But this movie surprised me not just once but several times.
  • It's low on dialogue -- it's just one liners and basic exposition -- and nobody is given a lot of back-story. This might make you think it sucks but actually, when's the last time you saw an action movie where you thought the dialogue was good, or cared about the back story at all? They are both completely peripheral to most action movies. So instead of doing them badly, this movie dispensed with them entirely in favour of yet more action. Good move!
  • VH has a lot in common with Starship Troopers, another big-action, low-plot movie that lots of people hated but I loved. But unlike ST, the acting is a lot better. The characters are all one-dimensional, but at least they play their one dimension well:
    • Beckinsale does a passable kiss-ass heroine (she's decorative, but just not a very good actress).
    • On the other hand, Jackman's considerable talent is more than adequate for his role: he seems to be stuck playing hunky leads at the moment, when he's probably capable of doing a lot more -- however, this is earning him big bucks, so what does he care?
    • The supporting cast are all really quite good. Dracula is completely over the top, and thoroughly enjoyable as such, but manages to stop short of being comical.
    • His three brides also deserve a mention -- they didn't just pull out random cuties to play these bit-parts; they are creepy and sexy and deliciously, viciously evil.
    • Even Igor manages to be amusing in his total of 15 seconds of screen time
    • Frankenstein never quite achieves the hopelessness and pathos of the original monster, but you can see what they were trying to do, at least
  • What really makes this movie is the effects: this movie is a rollercoaster of gorgeously realised FX set-pieces strapped tightly together. Beckinsale was also in Underworld, which was a vampires versus werewolves movie that managed to be completely disappointing. This one on the other hand features the most fantastically over-the-top monster-fight I have ever seen on screen. It was truly a wonder to behold. And you know I like my FX.
  • There are also a lot of funny moments: sometimes the humour is intentional (Jackman plays his role entirely straight-faced, but all the other characters take jabs at monster-movie cliches a few times) and sometimes it is not (such as the dozens of million-to-one chances everyone successfully takes).
  • For the B-movie geek there are also a number of ridiculously obscure references to various classic monster films. I'm sure I got only about a quarter of them, but the ones I got made me laugh out loud.

This is not a serious movie. But when did it claim to be? Having read the dreadful reviews it received on metacritic, I went in with very low expectations, which might have helped. But I loved it. It was fast, exciting, pretty, surprising, funny and fun. What more do you want, blood? Then there's lots of that too.

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