"In Defense Of" is a look back at films that have been relegated to the dustbin of time - victims of critical thrashing, commercial failure, etc. - that attempts to sort through their perceived failures and bring their merits to light in an effort to conclude whether or not they deserve a better reputation.
After resurrecting one of Universal's famous horror icons with The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, director Stephen Sommers turned his sights on reimagining not one but three more. 2004's Van Helsing served as the studio's attempt at launching a whole new franchise with Sommers at the helm, with Hugh Jackman in the titular role of a Victorian era monster hunter whose job sucks him into a grand plot involving such familiar faces as Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, and the Wolf Man.
On the surface, it was a sound idea: The monsters are undeniably iconic, Hugh Jackman was riding high on his popularity as Wolverine, Sommers was coming off of his two financially successful Mummy films, and everything was wrapped up in a slick steampunk package. Even the very premise seemed tailor-made for countless sequels that could've seen Van Helsing tackling other icons like the Creature from the Black Lagoon or the Invisible Man. Ahead of its release, everything was in place for Van Helsing to take the world by storm.
Instead, the film came and went in the summer of 2004, crushed by an immensely negative critical response and less-than-stellar box office returns, leaving the franchise dead on arrival. 12 years later, the film still stands as an exercise in excess, one that took The Mummy Returns' issues - which I detailed in my last In Defense Of - and repeats them tenfold, desperately chasing style over substance to its own detriment, resigning it to a forgettable fate even less people will remember another decade down the line.
It is, in many ways, a mess, an amazing idea executed poorly that might as well be a stone's throw away from SyFy Channel Original status, and it really isn't a surprise that it got savaged by critics upon release and shunned by moviegoers who clearly expected something more. And yet here we are, the film the focus of my In Defense Of against everything stacked against it, and for good reason.
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