Friday, January 15, 2016

Van Helsing (2004) Review:

Hugh Jackman has had his fair share of films people always enjoy. The Prestige (2006) and Prisoners (2013) are of a couple that Jackman is well respected for. With this, Jackman has had a steady career of being cast in various films. By far the one everyone will remember him for though is his portrayal of Logan AKA Wolverine from X-Men (2000) and the numerous sequels and spin-offs that came after. There have only been a handful of features that Jackman probably thinks people shouldn't bother seeing. By now one of his highest choices would probably be Movie 43 (2013), which received extremely negative reviews. Before this though, Jackman was in another film that isn't exactly high end either. For that case it belongs to this film, an action fantasy movie that is cluttered with several things that make it a bore to sit through. It isn't the absolute worst but it gets very tiresome over time. There just needed to be less of what was present and perhaps it might've felt smoother.

"Come on man, this wasn't that bad a film"
Picking up where the animated prequel left off after chasing Mr. Hyde, Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is assigned to go after Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) who’s after an ancient family bloodline lead by Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale). Turns out Drac wants the secret of life created in Frankenstein's monster (Shuler Hensley). After the financial success of The Mummy Returns (2001), Stephen Sommers came back for this project as the writer/director. This is probably where most of the problem lies. After the waves he made with his mummy franchise, Sommers just went on auto pilot, making action fantasy spectacles that became less and less engaging. Looking back I know my review to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) needs a re-adjustment because after watching this, the same tropes are fairly much the same in there too. All the plots to the writing (whether main or sub) contain numerous genre clich├ęs that are tired and simply uninteresting.

Before the leads even physically meet it is foreshadowed that Van Helsing will fall for Anna. That's no spoiler, it's plainly obvious. Even the plot itself is overused. Why must every movie that involves Frankenstein's monster have it be "the key" to whatever the villain is planning? There's also unexplained mythology about several parts to the plot. Dracula’s weakness and Van Helsing's backstory largely are just hinted at. Other than that there's no in-depth look; so why even bother? Another problem is pacing. This movie is over 2 hours long and felt painfully slow, as if there wasn't even a script to begin with. Plus, the plot dealing with Frankenstein's monster isn't introduced until around the halfway point. I, Frankenstein (2014) had the same overall plot, was a half an hour shorter and managed to make the viewing experience feel somewhat more enjoyable because of its trimmed running time. Here it just feels like a slow treck through action scene after action scene.

The last issue to this creature feature is the cast. Jackman and Beckinsale are probably the only two who play it straight. Jackman was the better half more because he has better quips for certain situations. Other than these two people, every other actor is hammy beyond belief. It's one thing if a single actor hams it up more than everyone else, but when the whole cast is being over the top, it just feels overly dramatic and in the most silliest of ways. Carl (David Wenham), Van Helsing's assistant is nothing more than a sidekick. Will Kemp is useless as Anna's brother. Kevin J. O'Connor as Igor (who looks like he has John Hurt's makeup from The Elephant Man (1980)) is wasted because it's shown he has opinions,...but that’s ignored. Shuler Hensley as Frankenstein's monster is cool looking but does a lot of screaming. The same goes for Richard Roxburgh as Dracula. He by far chews the most scenery; MORE than Richard Grant from Rocky V (1990). It's ridiculous.

Richard Roxburgh....
These are the positives to the film and they do make the viewing better but still not decent enough. Robbe Coltrane voicing Mr. Hyde was nice hearing again. The action, although too abundant, was mostly entertaining. Even though by today's standards compared to 2004, even the CGI looked fairly good. This goes for the action sequences or the slower moving shots. The cinematography shot by Allen Daviau looks adequate too. Daviau was also the DP for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) and Empire of the Sun (1987). Composing the film score to this action fantasy movie was Alan Silvestri. Turns out for this score, Silvestri does not stick to his usual sound. Here he incorporates some synth into his motifs. He also arranged multiple themes for various characters and scene locations. Now if only his full score would be released, that'd be nice. If you can ignore all the bad things mentioned before you might enjoy this movie.

Action junkies and Hugh Jackman fans would probably get the most benefit from this film. It isn't terrible but it has enough issues, with its painful pacing, overzealous actors and foggy writing. The action, music and visuals are good but that's what most Stephen Sommers' films have in them. It's rather boring at times.

Points Earned --> 5:10

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