You really have to feel bad when studios and directors have high hopes and expectations for a movie, only to have them essentially fall flat on it’s face. That is exactly what happened with today’s movie. This was supposed to be the first in a series of films starring the title character and incorporating many of the Universal monsters in them. Unfortunately for them, nothing much came of it as the poor opening weekend performance cause the plans for any follow up to be scrapped. However, I knew absolutely none of this when I went to see this movie in theaters. All I wanted was to be entertained and I definitely was entertained, though probably not in the way that it was intended. So let’s have some fun with today’s movie, Van Helsing.
The plot: In 1887 Transylvania, a mob of villagers storm the castle of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, who has just finished bringing life to his monster. Seeing the villagers coming, Frankenstein wants to flee with his creation but his partner, Count Dracula, says he can’t allow him to leave, as he has plans for the monster. Victor refuses to allow Dracula to use his creation for evil and calls out for his assistant Igor to help him, only to learn that Igor has betrayed him and sided with Dracula. Frankenstein attempts to kill Dracula but Dracula mocks him, running himself through with his sword, then grabs Frankenstein and kills him. As this is going on, the monster breaks free from it’s restraints and throws some of the equipment at Dracula, knocking him into the fire. The monster then grabs Frankenstein’s body and escapes out a side passage as the villagers make their way into the castle, but Igor calls out to Frankenstein, alerting the villagers to their presence. They chase the monster to a windmill and set fire to it, and the Monster make’s it’s way to the top and yells out “Why” to the villagers, just before the fire weakens the building and he falls into the burning debris. Dracula makes his way out of the fire and rejoins with his three brides, chasing off the villagers before landing at the base of the windmill, where his brides cry out as Dracula simply stares, believing the monster to be destroyed. One year later, Van Helsing tracks down the monstrous Mr. Hyde to Paris and confronts him in Notre Dame Cathedral. During the fight, Van Helsing manages to cut off one of Hyde’s arms but Hyde gets the upper hand and, after throwing Van Helsing through the roof, he taunts him briefly before dropping him off the roof of the cathedral. Van Helsing grabs a grappling gun and shoots it through Hyde, stopping himself from falling, then attempts to pull Hyde off the roof but Hyde is able to stop himself from going over. Hyde then grabs the cable and runs across the roof, pulling Van Helsing back up with him, but he loses his balance and falls off the roof, then ends up swinging through the cathedral only to fall out the other side, transforming back to Dr. Jekyll before he hits the street. As Van Helsing looks down from the roof, a crowd gathers at the body and the police spot Van Helsing and yell out for him, as he is a wanted man. Van Helsing makes his way to Vatican City and attends a confession, where Cardinal Jinette admonishes him for breaking the window and killing Hyde, as it brings too much attention to the Holy Order. Van Helsing says he doesn’t like being known as the most wanted man in Europe and asks the Order help him but the Cardinal says the Order doesn’t exist, which is why it is a secret order. He then says that Van Helsing’s lack of memory is due to his past sins and his dealing with monsters is how he can recover it. He then tells him that he will be going to Transylvania to help a Romanian family kill Dracula, as their ancestor swore he and his family would not enter Heaven until they did so. The family is down to the last two members, Anna and Velkan Valerious, and if Dracula is not killed before they die, the entire family will be doomed to limbo. Van Helsing goes to see Carl, a monk that helps make him weapons to use, and after being shown the latest weapons, Van Helsing tells Carl that he is coming with him to Transylvania. Meanwhile, in Transylvania, Anna and Velkan lead some villagers in an attempt to kill a werewolf. The werewolf manages to escape it’s trap and chases after Anna, who gets trapped on the edge of a cliff, but as the werewolf leaps at her, Velkan pushes her aside and shoots the werewolf, just as it strikes him and knocks both of them off the cliff and into the water below. Some time later, Van Helsing and Carl arrive in the village, but are greeted by a mob of villagers. Anna appears and demands that they be disarmed, telling the villagers to kill when they refuse. Van Helsing says he is there to help her, pulling out his crossbow just as the three brides appear and begin attacking the villagers. The brides are focused on killing Anna and Van Helsing is able to save her just before the sun coming out from behind the clouds forces the brides to hide. When the clouds cover the sun again, the brides renew their attack, with Verona and Aleera going after Anna while Marishka goes after Van Helsing. Van Helsing dips his crossbow into some holy water from the church and fires the bolts at Marishka, killing her, and the other brides, sensing her death, scream in rage and fly off. Back at Dracula’s lair, Dracula wakes from his sleep and mourns the loss of Marishka, chastising Verona and Aleera for failing to kill Anna. Dracula says that his plans are almost finished and he tells Igor to finish training his new werewolf to kill Anna, while he retires with his brides to Castle Frankenstein. Back at the Anna’s home, Van Helsing speaks with her about where to find Dracula but Anna plans on going after him on her own, as she doesn’t want anyone else to die, so Van Helsing knocks her out. When Anna comes too, she senses movement in the castle and discovers Velkan is still alive but as he tries to warn her, he suddenly transforms, revealing himself to be the new werewolf. Van Helsing shows up and stops Velkan from killing Anna but as he attempts to shoot him, Anna stops him and when Van Helsing asks her why, she says that Dracula has a cure for lycanthropy and she wants to find it to save Velkan’s life. The two track Velkan to Castle Frankenstein, where Dracula is attempting to use Frankenstein’s experiment to bring life to his dead-born offspring. Using Velkan’s body to help channel the electricity, Dracula has Igor begin the experiment and the baby vampires come to life and Dracula has Verona and Aleena take them to the village to feed. Van Helsing starts shooting the baby vampires, enraging Dracula and he goes after him while Anna goes to the lab to find the cure. Van Helsing manages to stab Dracula with a silver stake but Dracula survives and calls Van Helsing Gabriel. Realizing that Van Helsing doesn’t remember his past, Dracula taunts him with his past and asks if he wants to know the truth. Meanwhile, the vampire babies attack the village and Carl attempts to help the villagers when the babies suddenly begin exploding. Verona and Aleena cry out in grief and head back to the castle, distracitng Dracula long enough for Van Helsing to escape. Meanwhile, Anna makes her way to the lab and after fending off Dracula’s minions, the Dwerger, and makes her way to Velkan but she is unable to save him. Velkan starts to change just as Van Helsing reaches her and they manage to escape while Velkan falls in the river trying to stop them. Van Helsing and Anna take shelter in the remains of the windmill and start to bond when the floor gives way and they fall into a chasm underneath it. As they recover, they encounter Frankenstein’s monster, and he tells them that he is the key to bringing Dracula’s children to life just before Van Helsing knocks him out. Anna wants to kill him but Van Helsing stops her, saying evil may have played a part in his creation but he senses no evil from the creature. When they spot Velkan above them, Anna tries to shoot him but he escapes and she realizes that he will tell Dracula that the creature was found so Van Helsing suggests they head to Vatican City with him. Meanwhile, Carl discovers a hidden painting depicting a vampire and a werewolf fighting against each other and he tells Van Helsing about it, but they aren’t sure what it means. Van Helsing loads up Carl and the monster into a carriage and takes off through the forest, only to be attacked by Verona and Aleena. As Van Helsing struggles with them, the carriage races towards a broken bridge and though the horses, and Van Helsing, make it across, the carriage doesn’t and starts to fall into the ravine. Verona attempts to rescue the creature but when she opens the door, she finds it was a booby-trapped decoy and she is killed by the stakes that fire out of it when it explodes. Van Helsing meets up with Anna, who is driving the real carriage, but they are attacked by Velkan, who sets the carriage on fire. Frankenstein’s monster helps rescue Anna and Van Helsing and they jump to safety, as Van Helsing shoots at Velkan when he leaps at them. When Anna recovers, she finds Velkan is dead and yells at Van Helsing for killing him only to discover that he was bitten. As Anna backs away in terror, she is knocked unconscious by Aleena and flown away to Budapest. Van Helsing, Carl, and Frankenstein’s monster make their way to Budapest and are met by Aleena, who tells them Dracula is willing to make an exchange; Anna for Frankenstein’s monster. After she leaves, Frankenstein’s monster discovers that Van Helsing has been bitten and Van Helsing apologizes to him just before knocking him out. Van Helsing places him in a crypt in order to hide him and he and Carl make their way to the masquerade ball to rescue Anna. Van Helsing manages to rescue her before Dracula makes her his new bride but Igor shows up with Frankenstein’s monster. The other guests all reveal themselves to be vampires and take off after Van Helsing and Anna but Carl manages to kill them with a sunlight grenade as they jump out a window. Seeing Igor carrying away Frankenstein’s monster in a boat, Van Helsing chases after them but is stopped when a gate closes and he yells out that he will find and free him. Carl tells him that Rome ordered Frankenstein’s monster to be destroyed and Van Helsing asks if he is to be killed as well, the apologizes to Carl for his actions. They return to Frankenstein’s castle to find all of the equipment has been removed and are at a loss for how to find them. Heading back to Anna’s place, Carl tells them everything that he learned about Dracula and Van Helsing figures out where the door to Dracula’s castle is. Giving Carl the missing piece needed to read the inscription, they are able to make their way to the castle, and Van Helsing uses his newly enhanced strength to carry Anna and Carl inside. Once there, they capture Igor and locate Frankenstein’s monster, who tells them Dracula has a cure for lycanthropy just before he is taken up to the tower. Van Helsing wonders why Dracula has a cure and Carl realizes a werewolf is the only thing that can kill Dracula, so he kept the cure with him in case one ever turned against him. Van Helsing has Igor lead Carl and Anna to get the cure while he goes to rescue Frankenstein’s monster and Anna and Van Helsing embrace and kiss before they separate. In the lab, Frankenstein’s monster is attached to the machine and Dracula has him lifted up to channel the lightning so he can bring his children to life. Meanwhile, Igor leads Anna and Carl to the cure but traps them in the room, where Aleena is waiting for them. Anna knocks over the container the cure is floating in, revealing it to be some sort of acid, and as Aleena screams in pain from where the liquid hit her face, Anna tells carl to grab the cure while she scoops up some of the liquid and uses it on the locked door. Burning away some of the bars, Anna tells Carl to get the cure to Van Helsing just as Aleena recovers and goes after Anna. Carl makes his way across the bridge towards the lab but is attacked by Igor, who uses a giant cattle prod to try and force Carl off the bridge. Van Helsing makes his way to the roof of the tower amd works on freeing Frankenstein’s monster just as the first bolt of lightning hits him, starting the process. Noticing Van Helsing trying to free the monster, Dracula transforms and flies up to attack him, knocking him back down into the lab. Frankenstein’s monster tries to finish freeing himself just as a second bolt hits, bringing all of the babies to life. The resulting burst of electricity also serves to free Frankenstein’s monster and send him plunging over the edge of the roof. He manages to grab onto some of the cables as he falls towards the bridge, inadvertently knocking Igor off the bridge as he does. As Frankenstein’s monster clings to the rope, he begs Carl for help and Carl, disobeying the Vatican’s orders, agrees to do so, freeing the cable from where it is stuck so that Frankenstein’s monster can swing to safety. Meanwhile, Anna is knocked down by Aleena, who moves to kill her when Frankenstein’s monster comes crashing through the window, saving Anna as he knocks Aleena away. Back in the lab, the Dwerger all flee from the fires inside as Dracula swoops down to face Van Helsing. As the clock strikes midnight, Van Helsing transforms into a werewolf, shocking Dracula, who tries to reason with him but quickly transforms as the two begin fighting. Elsewhere, Frankenstein’s monster starts battling Aleena, yelling for Anna to go help Van Helsing, and she thanks him before leaving the room. Seeing Carl unable to cross the bridge due to most of it being destroyed, she uses the cables to swing over to the lab, having Carl toss her the cure as she passes him. Suddenly, Aleena slams into Anna, knocking her off course, and Aleena taunts Anna as she moves to kill her but Carl throws a silver stake to Anna, who quickly plunges it into Aleena’s chest, killing her. Back in the lab, Dracula and Van Helsing continue to fight and Van Helsing gets the upper hand when he suddenly transforms back into human due to the moon being covered by a cloud. Dracula taunts him and tells him part of his history, how he is actually Gabriel the Archangel, the Left Hand of God, and was the one who originally killed Dracula 400 years ago. Dracula offers to tell Van Helsing more but Van Helsing says sometimes the past should stay forgotten, just as the moon reemerges. Transforming back into a werewolf, Van Helsing quickly overpowers Dracula and bites him in the neck, causing him to whither and die, as well as all of the baby vampires. Anna enters the room and goes to plunge the cure into Van Helsing but he senses her and charges towards her. Carl enters the room and sees Van Helsing standing over Anna and goes to kill him, like Van Helsing wanted, but Van Helsing stops him, revealing the needle with the cure protruding from his chest. Carl then sees that Anna is dead and Van Helsing grabs her and howls out in grief as he transforms back into human, crying in grief over being responsible for her death. Some time later, Van Helsing and Carl place Anna’s body on a funeral pyre and set it ablaze, while Frankenstein’s monster pilots a raft away from the shore, taking one last look at his friends before continuing his journey. As Carl reads a prayer over the pyre, Van Helsing senses Anna’s spirit and he looks away from the fire to see her reunited with Velkan, her father, and the rest of her ancestors as they all finally make their way towards heaven. As he watches Anna smile and shed a tear before turning and making her journey, Van Helsing gets a smile on his face and rides off with Carl back towards Rome.
Van Helsing was mostly panned by the critics, holding a 23% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “A hollow creature feature that suffers from CGI overload.” The place where Van Helsing and Anna fight Dracula’s three wives is the same place where Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), and The Wolf Man (1941) were filmed. The set is called the Court of Miracles, and it’s part of the studio tour at Universal Studios Hollywood. In 2012, Universal announced they were rebooting the franchise, modernizing it as part of a shared universe, with Tom Cruise to star but the idea stalled out and Cruise left the film only to resign onto the rebooted movie, The Mummy (2017). Despite the poor reviews, the movie was a modest hit at the box office, as it’s $300.3 million worldwide gross almost doubled it’s $160 million budget.
This movie is entertaining to watch because of how bad it really is. I mean, I was almost rolling on the floor laughing when I saw this in theaters. The acting was decent, with Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale doing good jobs in their roles of Van Helsing and Anna respectively. I also liked David Wenham (Carl) and Kevin J. O’Connor (Igor) as they both provided a fair bit of comic relief, but I hated Richard Roxburgh’s Dracula. The story was interesting and I liked the idea of having a different Van Helsing, as opposed to the traditional Abraham Van Helsing, but I think they tried to push the idea of him really being an archangel a bit much. I also thought the idea of Dracula’s children being still born and needing to be brought to life via Frankenstein’s monster being a neat idea and actually a decent plot point, but it could have been better served as the plot for a later movie instead of the first installment. However, those good parts don’t make up for some of the most ridiculous and somewhat pointless dialogue that occurred through this movie, as there were several times where it was just absolutely stupid. Now, I am kind of split on the special effects, as there were some good parts and some really cheesy parts involved. I will say that I liked the concept of having the werewolves ripping their skin off to reveal the werewolf emerging, giving a rather literal depiction of “the Beast within”. However, I hated the way the vampires looked, as they seemed way too blue in hue that just made it rather odd looking. I also thought Frankenstein’s Monster was a little too steampunkish in appearance, and the clap trap head of his was just ridiculous and only seemed to be there for a cheap laugh. So on the whole, this is not a good movie, but it can be a lot of fun to watch just so you can make fun of it.
Rating: 3 out of 5