It's a great opening scene. The classic black-and-white Universal spinning-globe logo catches fire and segues into the flaming torch of a lynch-mobber besieging Castle Dracula. Then, with the tactful nod to inspiration over, it's on with the carnage.
In the first 15 minutes alone, we see Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Wolf-Man and a gigantic Jekyll/Hyde ogre. And it never lets up: apart from a bit of kissy-kissy, Van Helsing is a pitiless blizzard of REALLY LOUD set-pieces, mostly involving people flying/swinging/jumping through stained-glass windows and falling off crumbling bridges. But then what did you expect from the director of The Mummy Returns?
Jackman's Van Helsing is the cinematic ultra-hero: a rugged blend of Indiana Jones (hat, ancient parchment-studying) and, mostly, Bond (gadgets, sardonic quips). The filmmakers know it, too - check out the scene where `comic'-foil monk Carl (David Wenham) talks Van Helsing through his new toys (steampunk crossbow, nitroglycerine holy hand-grenade, boxed sunlight...). It's so Q it almost takes the P.
But who's complaining? After all, Jackman hits just the right tone - dashing and unflappable - and even Beckinsale, reedy Englishness buried beneath rrrolling Romanian, is kinda fun ("We Transylvanians always look on the brighter side of death"). The same goes for the majority of the monsters, too: forgive the odd moment of cringey 2-D and you're left with a band of beasties that all look satisfyingly grotesque, the best being Dracula's trio of swooping, screeching, hissing brides.
It's just a shame that the Count is actually the weakest of the creatures, Richard Roxburgh's pixellated dark side flying out of a computer game when it should be the one Thing to rule them all. Mind you, Roxburgh doesn't fare much better. He may be a fine actor, but he's far too camp and piggy-nosed to carry off the required air of sexual menace, his Translyvanian terror never managing to swoosh out of the shadows of Lugosi, Lee or even Oldman. Still, that's what happens when the plot demands he lurch from elegant, undead overlord to Rocky Horror Show-style mad-scientist in the blink of an undead eye.
Undoubtedly the first of a proposed franchise, you have to wonder where - and what? - Van Helsing can next go a-hunting. Ghosts? Giant worms? A scrap with Satan himself? Yet, for now, Stephen Sommers has sealed his reputation as the master of REALLY LOUD escapist super-schlock. Van Helsing won't win any Oscars, but it will keep you grinning and gaping for a couple of hours.
A noisy carpet-bombing of shrieking, chomping and monsterlising. Twenty minutes too long, but solid Friday-night moviemaking.