When it was announced two years back that Van Helsing of all films was getting the reboot treatment, I must admit I was a bit bewildered by the news. The original wasn’t even a decade old at the time, and from what I could tell it wasn’t all that beloved, which I thought was something of a prerequisite for that kind of thing. About the only thing Van Helsing has going for it is name recognition and even that was lifted wholesale from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For a film that came by nearly all of its characters and story elements second-hand — a Frankenstein’s monster-movie, if you will — the idea that it was going to be revived and revamped itself was just too ironic for words.
At any rate, it may still be a few years before Van Helsing, Mark II sees the light of day, so until then Stephen Sommers’s 2004 model will have to stand alone, much like its hero, played by Hugh Jackman with a maximum amount of alpha-male bravado. In Sommers’s conception, Van Helsing has been transformed into an all-purpose monster hunter working for the Vatican who rather conveniently can’t remember his past. Introduced in the process of cornering Dr. Jekyll’s brutish alter ego Mr. Hyde in Paris, 1888, he’s dispatched to Transylvania with a great deal of firepower and a Q-like friar (David Wenham) in tow. There he hooks up with gypsy princess Kate Beckinsale, whose family has vowed to destroy Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), but hasn’t had a whole lot of luck with that so far. Also thrown into the mix are Frankenstein’s monster (Shuler Hensley), who’s actually quite articulate, Beckinsale’s brother (Will Kemp), who’s bitten by a werewolf early on, which puts a crimp in his own monster-hunting activities, a trio of tedious vampire brides, and an Igor (Kevin J. O’Connor) for good measure.
What are they all in service of, you might ask? Why, it’s a story about Dracula’s scientific quest to give life to his vampire progeny, which have a way of exploding like popcorn after they’ve hatched out of their cocoons. Didn’t know baby vampires did that? Well, neither did Sommers until he made it up. He’s also not above making up his own rules, like how the sun and moon have no effect on their respective monsters when they’re hidden behind the clouds. (Call me crazy, but when the moon is full, I’d say a werewolf should be able to keep its fur on even if it is overcast out.) And just in case anybody has any doubts about how silly this movie is, I have two words for you: exploding carriages. I rest my case.