In 1887, in Transylvania, Doctor Victor Frankenstein (Samuel West), aided by Igor (Kevin J. O’Connor) and by Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), creates a monster. The mob burns down the windmill and believe they have killed the monster. Years later, monster-slayer Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) travels to Notre Dame de Paris and kills Mister Hyde (voice of Robbie Coltrane). Van Helsing is in fact working for the Holy Order, which has been destroying monsters for centuries. But Van Helsing himself remembers nothing but the fact that he was found crawling up the steps of a church, his memories gone.
At the Order’s headquarters in Vatican City, Van Helsing is told to destroy Count Dracula and protect Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) and her brother Velkan (Will Kemp), the last descendants of an ancient Romanian family. Their ancestor had vowed that they would kill Dracula or spend eternity in Purgatory. Van Helsing, who suspects he has some sins to work out, wants to help. Anna and Velkan meet a werewolf controlled by Dracula, but it and Velkan fall into a chasm.
Together with Friar Carl (David Wenham), an expert on weapons like a medieval Q, Van Helsing arrives at a village in time to help Anna fight off Dracula’s Brides--Verona (Silvia Colloca), Marishka (Josie Marana), and Aleera (Elena Anaya). Marishka is killed. Velkan turns up to visit Anna and transforms into a werewolf. Van Helsing and Anna pursue him to Frankenstein’s Castle, where they find that Dracula wishes to duplicate Frankenstein’s experiments, to give life to his thousands of undead children, using Velkan in the process.
Dracula confronts Van Helsing. Dracula’s spawn come to life but die because the formula was inexact. Van Helsing and Anna escape and find Frankenstein’s monster at the windmill, who tells them he is the key to making the formula work. Velkan overhears and returns to tell Dracula. Carl discovers a painting of two rival knights, which come to life as a vampire and a werewolf. Trying to take the monster to Rome, Van Helsing and crew are attacked by Velkan and the Brides near Budapest. Verona and Velkan are killed, but Van Helsing is bitten. Aleera seizes Anna and offers to trade her for the monster at a vampire ball. Van Helsing locks the monster in a crypt, but it is taken by the undead to Dracula. Van Helsing and Carl rescue Anna.
Carl explains that Dracula is the son of Valerious the Elder. Dracula made a pact with the devil in 1462 to live again, but Valerious the Elder was told to kill Dracula for the salvation of his family. He could not do so and locked him in an icy fortress. This story gives Van Helsing a clue to finding Dracula’s icy prison. The monster tells them Dracula has a cure for lycanthropy because only a werewolf can kill him. Van Helsing, fighting transformation, sends Anna and Carl to steal the cure. Igor and Aleeta are killed. Van Helsing tries to free the monster but is struck by lightning and Dracula’s children begin to come to life.
Dracula and Van Helsing turn bestial and battle. Dracula admits that it was Van Helsing who had killed him and offers to restore his memory. Van Helsing rejects the offer and kills Dracula, whose brood dies with him. Anna injects the cure just as Van Helsing kills her, howling in grief. He and Carl burn Anna’s body by the sea. The monster leaves on a raft and Van Helsing sees Anna’s spirit reunited with her family in heaven. Van Helsing and Carl ride off into the sunset, no doubt hoping for a sequel.
The film was written and directed by Stephen Sommers of the Mummy reboots and Deep Rising. The entire film is supposed to be a tribute to the Universal horror films of the Thirties and Forties. It was panned by critics, who called it a hollow creature film that suffered from CGI overload and compared it to Battlefield Earth, but it made a coffin-load of money, probably because of Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale. There were also Dark Horse comics in which Van Helsing met Doctor Moreau. A reboot with Tom Cruise was discussed, but the plan collapsed with the box-office failure of Cruise’s The Mummy.
Stephen Sommers’s werewolves do not sprout hair and stretch their bodies like traditional werewolves. They rip off their skin and reveal the beast within. The scene in which Van Helsing and Anna fight the Brides of Dracula took place in what is called The Court of Miracles at Universal Studios, where Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man were filmed. Kate Beckinsale jumped at the role but hated the corset. The Brides did all their own flying. The lab equipment for Frankenstein’s Castle was bought on eBay. One of the werewolves was purposely fashioned after the one in An American Werewolf in London (1981). Carl is named after Carl Laemmle, head of Universal Studios in the Thirties and Forties. There are hints that Gabriel Van Helsing is actually the Angel Gabriel.
The whole of the Vampire’s Ball does not appear in the ballroom’s mirrors except for Anna. Richard Roxburgh (Dracula) and Silvia Colloca (one of his brides) were married. In his battle with Dracula, the werewolf Van Helsing bares his claws the way Wolverine does it. The adventurous youth of Van Helsing would be a wonderful story, and Hugh Jackman could bring it off, but Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale, and the Brides of Dracula are not the only eye-candy in this movie. That’s kind of the problem. The whole film is action and special-effects eye-candy. It makes me think of a carnival, where the rides are breathtaking, but there’s nothing to eat but pink spun sugar. It hurts to complain about action scenes that I enjoyed watching, but there was too much of a good thing, and sometimes these movies seem interminable. A moment to think now and then would be nice.