The truth is, I can't quite decide if I liked it or not. Either I didn't view it in the right frame of mind, or it couldn't quite decide what it wanted to be. This happened to me the first time I saw director Steven Sommers' The Mummy. I was sitting in the theatre trying mightily to watch an adventure flick (like, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark) but what I was supposed to be watching was a comic adventure. Once I got my own mindset right, I actually came to really like The Mummy.
As for Van Helsing, well, I'm not convinced that's the problem. The fact of the matter is, I have never seen a more lushly and extravagantly produced campy film. And campy it was. Sometimes. Which goes to the heart of the problem: If it had been campy the entire time, I could've settled into it as a comic fantasy and enjoyed it. But it didn't. It careened wildly from full-on, scenery-chewing camp to utter pathos to high adventure and back to the camp. Always back to the camp.
It will take me a while to get over seeing Faramir as a foppish medieval "Q", I can tell you (David Wenham definitely showed his quality; he was so utterly different in every aspect that it took me until his fourth or fifth scene to figure out who he was). Hugo Jackman has been used better but he does fine. And a couple of hours of watching Kate Beckinsale run around in that inexplicable corset is not without its compensations.
All in all, I was disappointed, but I'll give it this: While there are some plot holes large enough to swallow Castle Dracula, there's actually a pretty good story struggling to dig itself out from underneath in the schizophrenic direction. A tad bit too complicated (in the wrong sorts of ways), perhaps, but it's engaging and original. That said, it runs at least 15-20 minutes too long (more evidence of the director's lack of control, IM(NS)HO).
My advice: If you feel you simply must see it, rent it.
Crossposted from Ipse Dixit.