Alejandro (Banderas) the former thief turned defender of the downtrodden seems poised to give up his swashbuckling ways as California shifts from Mexican territory to U.S. statehood. But he stubbornly refuses to be domesticated. A rift grows between Mr. and Mrs. Zorro when his wife Elena (Zeta-Jones) insists he’s not there for his spirited young son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). But even as Elena appears to divorce Alejandro and dally with a mysterious dashing old schoolmate (Rufus Sewell) Zorro remains a much-needed force of good when he discovers a plot that threatens to tear the U.S. apart. Still ranking high among the most beautiful people currently on the big screen Banderas and Zeta-Jones successfully evolve their on-screen relationship to reflect the too-long passage of time between films. If only the arch energy they bring to their banter and the passion they heat their love scenes with weren’t hindered by the clichéd by-the-numbers script. Meanwhile though a semi-believable potential romantic rival to Banderas the ever-arresting Sewell remains one of the most underutilized actors in Hollywood relegated to yet-another period heavy role. Alonso shows pluck as the budding Zorro Jr. but his charisma is dampened by overly cutes-y scenes and too-modern one-liners. Even though both Banderas and Zeta-Jones have emerged as top-flight actors and A-level movie stars since the original the sequel still sorely misses the class and gravitas Anthony Hopkins brought to the first outing. None of director Martin Campbell’s films since The Mask of Zorro have demonstrated the same whip-smart panache and sadly this sequel though serviceable is no exception. He competently carries off the necessary but familiar-feeling action set pieces and at times he lets the simmering sex vibe between his stars run loose albeit briefly on the screen. The film certainly isn’t so lackluster as to provoke bored Zs from the audience but it’s a shame to see El Zorro’s blade this dulled.
In the late 19th century Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) a misunderstood monster hunter is summoned to Transylvania to ferret out Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and kill him once and for all. When Van Helsing gets to the small village where the vampire was last spotted he discovers he also must contend with Dracula's three seriously twisted vampire brides Dracula's angry henchman/werewolf--and a lovely gypsy princess named Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) who is hell-bent on eradicating Dracula and his bloodsucking kind for slaughtering her entire family. Oh and let's not forget Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley) who holds the key to Dracula's evil master plan--something about releasing his minions of unborn bat-like children from their goo-filled cocoons so they can wreck havoc on the world. Yuck. Sounds like our resident monster stomper and his sword-swinging gal pal have their work cut out for them. If Van Helsing does manage to kill all his monster foes does that mean he's out of a job?
Jackman has the whole antihero thing down pat. He adequately embodies the younger more virile Van Helsing dishing out as much pain and torture as he can on the undead--but the Aussie actor isn't given nearly as much meat to chew on as he did say delving into the complicated Wolverine in X-Men. Instead the monster hunter is relegated to carrying big weapons wearing a big hat and muttering something about having bad dreams to a past he can't remember. Same goes for Beckinsale. The British actress was oh-so-cool on the other side of the fence playing the chic vampire Selene in Underworld cutting her way through a myriad of werewolves. As Van Helsing's heavily accented female counterpart Anna however she just runs around with her sword blurting out such pathetic dialogue such as "Dracula took everything away from me and now I'm alone in the world" while Roxburgh's Dracula--who can't hold a candle to other far more charismatic Draculas before him--wails about being so very alone as his luscious brides hang upside down in front of him. Give me a break. At least Australian actor David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings) provides much-needed comic relief as Van Helsing's sidekick Carl a Catholic friar who doesn't much like playing hero.
With the requisite dark mood and tone action sequences and snazzy CGI-creations including the winged vampire brides and formidable werewolves you can see exactly where writer/director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) spent Van Helsing's nearly $150 million budget. But even all the bells and whistles can't tie together the film's vacuous nonsensical mumbo jumbo as Sommers attempts to bring classic movie monsters together in the same movie. Maybe in a tongue-in-cheek Abbott and Costello movie it could work but as a serious action-packed thriller clearly Dracula Frankenstein and the Wolf Man do not need to meet. On top of that Sommers steals from other movies as well such as recent films Underworld (the whole vampire vs. werewolf conflict) and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (Van Helsing defeats a rather familiar-looking Mr. Hyde at one point). Whatever originality there is in the film leaves you either scratching your head--Dracula has kids?--or rolling your eyes--Anna needs to kill Dracula so her nine-generations of family can reunite in Heaven? Please.