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The UnPopular Opinion: Van Helsing

01.27.2016

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

There are two types of movie fans in the world: those who can appreciate a film for what it is and everybody else. I have made the argument before that there is a difference between movies and films; movies are a form of entertainment while films are a type of art. There is definitely a grey area where a movie can also be a film and vice versa, but you do not necessarily have to be the classiest Oscar contender to still be an enjoyable ride through cinema. VAN HELSING is a perfect example of a movie that tries to be nothing more than a homage to the movies of a bygone era while still being a modern romp full of cheese and extravangance. I would never make an excuse for VAN HELSING to be more than it is, but that certainly doesn't detract from being a movie I would recommend to anyone looking for a fun way to pass a couple of hours.

Coming off the box office success of THE MUMMY and it's sequel, Stephen Sommers was still endeared in the hearts of movie fans who were still innocently unaware of what he would do with G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA a few years later. In fact, Sommers helped reinvigorate excitement in the long retired Universal Monster films of the 1940s and 1950s. So, if the man who was able to make THE MUMMY a viable series again, why not try it with all of the other monsters...at the same time? VAN HELSING was an attempt to craft a shared universe long before Marvel or DC even had that idea in their heads. The result is a CGI-filled ride full of one-liners, PG-13 gore, and the bustling cleavage of Kate Beckinsale. Essentially, it is the perfect Hollywood summer movie.

In a nutshell, VAN HELSING follows Hugh Jackman as the titular monster hunter who is employed by the Vatican. In return for penance due to a life of sins, Van Helsing kills unholy creatures while suffering from amnesia. Van Helsing is tasked with helping Anna and Velkan Valerious in destroying Count Dracula. Dracula has employed Victor Frankenstein to create a monster to help the vampire ruler take over the world. Van Helsing discovers that Anna is hot and her brother is a werewolf. Oh, and Igor works for Dracula. Oh, and Van Helsing kills Mr. Hyde tat the beginning of the film. So, yeah, the plot is insane, but that is part of what makes it so fun. A little bit THE MUMMY, a little bit James Bond, and a little bit LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, VAN HELSING is way too crazy to be taken seriously but just wacky enough to work.

There have been several attempts to make a film like this and they have all worked to varying degrees. HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS and THE BROTHERS GRIMM were both fun movies that played on the classic monster lore on display in VAN HELSING, but Sommers' film has something that trumps those other movies: Hugh Jackman. The man who is Wolverine proved that he had the star power and charisma to handle this type of fare and he brings the same gravitas to the role of Van Helsing that he did for the X-MEN movies. Jackman clearly knows this material is bonkers, but he embraces the crazy and that helps make the movie more fun than it has a right to be. Brendan Fraser brought an Indiana Jones style to THE MUMMY while Jackman brings a definite 007 vibe to this movie.

But VAN HELSING remains firmly in the realm of campy action and adventure. Like THE MUMMY, this is not a horror movie but rather an action movie. A steampunk rollercoaster through the late 19th Century, Stephen Sommers' movie will never be mistaken for the Universal classics it is paying homage to. But, it has a lot of fun doing it. Kate Beckinsale was widely criticized for her acting in this movie, but she shares a lot in common with her UNDERWORLD character as well as Catherine Zeta Jones in THE MASK OF ZORRO. Here she is a strong woman who can hold her own in a fight but looks damn good in a corset, too. Again, this isn't high art. This is schlock at it's big budget best. Even THE MUMMY veteran Kevin J O'Connor gets in on the fun as Igor. Richard Roxburgh's Dracula is definitely not one of the best aspects of this movie, but he proves a worthy foe for Hugh Jackman's titular hero.

But what Sommers lacks in nuance or grace is made up for by the final act of the film. VAN HELSING clocks in at 131 minutes of which the final half hour makes it more than worth it to have sat through the first hour and forty minutes. With Van Helsing having become a werewolf, this becomes the ultimate monster versus monster battle as everyone gets in on the action. Universal is currently plotting a new shared universe for these creatures and I can assure you that this final act is the template for what they want to accomplish. Regardless of the time period or use of special effects, you cannot deny that the culminating battle scene of VAN HELSING is worth the price of admission alone. 

VAN HELSING is not a film that has lingered in memories of movie fans in the last decade, but it is certainly a fun movie to revisit. Not scary enough to be included in horror movie marathons, this is still a fun flick to throw on if you want to just let your mind wander and your eyeballs take in the spectacle. Hugh Jackman carries this film on his own and would have undoubtedly benefitted from exploring the universe further, ideally under the guidance of a better director. Even with a major downer of an ending, VAN HELSING manages to be more fun than it has any right to be. If you hold reservations about the film based on word of mouth or having seen it during it's initial run, I encourage you to give it another shot. You may be surprised how much you enjoy it.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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