"B-Movie Monsters Return"
VAN HELSING is a big budget B-movie that pits an Indiana Jones-style figure against Dracula, werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster, and even Mr. Hyde. Story takes a backseat to action sequences and spectacular special effects, as each fight scene attempts to outdo the last one. Even a glimpse at the stars’ resumes tells you that this is an action-only movie: Hugh Jackman is Wolverine in the X-MEN movies, and Kate Beckinsale was in last year’s similar UNDERWORLD.
The action starts immediately as Dr. Frankenstein gives life to his monster, with Count Dracula “sponsoring” the experiment. Fearful villagers storm Frankenstein’s castle and burn it to the ground. Decades later, a secretive council run by the Roman Catholic church dispatches their ace monster hunter Van Helsing to the scene to finally kill Dracula, who has been terrorizing the region in the intervening years. Through a bizarre intricacy of the plot, if Van Helsing does not kill Dracula very soon, several generations of one family will be doomed forever and not allowed into heaven.
VAN HELSING borrows some imagery and ideas from Christianity and Catholicism to make its hobbled plot spin, as Van Helsing believes that his talent to slay monsters is a gift and mission from God, and he crosses himself whenever he comes across a dead person. Salvation is even the plot’s motor, although it is gained at the hands of the monster hunter – not God alone. Several other characters refer to God, asking for His help or forgiveness, but the talk seems a formality. A friar meets a barmaid and fornicates with her almost immediately, while an annoyed priest tells Van Helsing, during confession, that he deserves “a week in hell” for breaking a window. The priest’s irreverent, flagrantly unbiblical statement is proof that this movie uses religion simply as an intriguing backdrop for its vacant story. Very similar to HELLBOY, there are references to Christianity, but no deep understanding of it as a thriving, real way of life.
Aside from the theological problems, the movie is a hodgepodge of elements that never come together. There are scary monsters to suggest a horror movie, explosions and fight scenes that say action movie, eye-roll-inducing comic relief, a vaguely mystical plotline, and even a perfunctory love story. Rather than complement each other, the components clutter the movie and bore the audience. The filmmakers should have been more straightforward and admitted that they just wanted a showcase for their special effects.
Those effects, however, are excellent. The dark, twilit atmosphere lends them a visual realness not found in some other CGI-laden movies. In the end, though, VAN HELSING is too campy to enjoy very much. The collection of 1930s movie monsters comes off as silly, and I haven’t even mentioned Dracula’s wives, with their terrible Transylvanian accents and cartoonish cackles. If only someone could make a movie that used the sophisticated special effects to enhance the story, not substitute for it.
(C, FRFR, AbAb, L, VV, S, A, D, M) Light Christian worldview with hero who is called by the Church and crosses himself in the Roman Catholic manner, a monster that reads the Bible, and several statements such as “God will forgive us,” with stronger false religious elements that include unbiblical theology, such as leaders from many different religions (including a Tibetan monk) work together in a conspiracy and talk of past lives, and anti-biblical content includes vampire incinerating a crucifix, a friar violates his vow of chastity, and an annoyed priest tells the hero during confession that he deserves “a week in hell” for breaking a window; three light obscenities and six utterances of “Oh my God”; suspenseful action violence, vampire impales self and bites man, a stampede of villagers breaks down castle door, corpse’s skin peels off and grows back, werewolf chases people and is shot, werewolf kills men, man shoots monster and severs its arm, monster falls to death, evil vampires turn into bats and are shot with arrows, vampires drink blood, vampires staked, monsters and vampires killed and decay instantly, and lots of explosions; brief sexual innuendo, and fornication implied; hero drinks absinthe; evil monster smokes cigar; and, vampire mentions grave robbing and hero willfully disobeys instruction of the church.
VAN HELSING is a big budget B-movie that pits an Indiana Jones-style figure against Dracula, werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster, and even Mr. Hyde. The action starts immediately as Frankenstein gives life to his monster, with Count Dracula observing the experiment. Decades later, a secretive council run by the Catholic church dispatches their ace monster hunter Van Helsing to the scene to finally kill Dracula. Dracula and the other vampires have been terrorizing the region all along. This sets off a series of intense action sequences, each one bigger than the last, and they’re all full of great special effects.
VAN HELSING has little foul language but lots of fighting between the hero and the monsters. Van Helsing uses guns, arrows and a small buzz saw. Although there are several positive mentions of God and Christianity, other parts of the movie’s theology are unbiblical, as the hero controls the salvation of an entire family, and there is talk of past lives. There is also a priest who says something bitter and ungodly in a confessional. In addition, the movie is far too campy for today’s audiences. Despite the exciting graphics, it will be quickly forgotten.