#312. Crossovers

Popular culture has created a lot of memorable characters over the years. Most of the time, these characters exist in their own, unique universes. However, every once in a while these universes are shown to be part of a larger, more complex universe. In combining these universes, the characters are allowed to cross over into the realms of other famous figures. Usually, these crossovers are possible because an overarching company owns the rights to the characters at large. From Marvel and DC’s respective cinematic universes to Disney’s Kingdom Hearts and Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. video game series, fans love to see their favorite characters interacting together. Even the Hannah-Barbara universe (which gave us The Flintstones meet The Jetsons (1987)) knew this back in the day. This week’s two films look at some character crossovers.

Van HelsingVan Helsing
Year: 2004
Rating: PG-13
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

During the first golden age of cinema in the 1930’s, Universal found success in bringing some of the world’s monsters to life. All the famous Halloween staples like Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Wolfman (1941) are part of the Universal Studios repertoire. It’s no wonder that these characters spawned numerous sequels and crossovers back in their time. Even today, films like Hotel Transylvania (2012) capitalize on their shared universe. Of course, while this animated film is more comedic, Universal brought out their monsters almost a decade earlier in the action-packed Van Helsing (2004), tying them all together via the titular character, who himself was based off the vampire hunter found in the Bram Stroker novel, Dracula. Of course, with the current popularity of cinematic universes, look for these monsters to be rebooted in the near future.

After Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) neutralized the threat of Mr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane) in the bell tower of Notre-Dame Cathedral (likely also a reference to another famous hunchback), he is sent by the Vatican to Transylvania to kill Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). Intel they have received from Igor (Kevin J. O’Connor) informs them that Victor Frankenstein (Samuel West) is collaborating with Dracula to bring a horde of dead vampire children back to life. Upon finding Frankenstein’s monster (Shuler Hensley), Van Helsing learns that the reason Dracula’s experiment failed was due to the missing monster. The werewolf (Will Kemp), one of Dracula’s lackeys, also learns this information and runs off to tell his master where the reanimated monster has been hiding. Unbeknownst to Dracula, the Vatican has just learned how to defeat the immortal vampire and lets Van Helsing know before their final showdown.

The Brothers GrimmThe Brothers Grimm
Year: 2005
Rating: PG-13
Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours

Much like Shakespeare in Love (1998) revealed the fictional inspiration for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, The Brothers Grimm (2005) delves into a potential origin story for the famed fairytale founders. Both the TV shows Once Upon a Time and Grimm have taken the numerous Grimm fairytales and combined them into their own shared universes, the former of which did so via their Disney interpretations. Stories like Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959), and Rapunzel (via Tangled (2010)) all received their Disney treatment over the years. These films don’t even touch on Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rumpelstiltskin, all of which reside within the same Grimm fairytale universe. With these stories in mind, seeing their potential origins in The Brothers Grimm helps to give an idea of the brothers’ inspirations.

Con artists Wilhelm (Matt Damon) and Jakob (Heath Ledger) Grimm soon find themselves out of their depth when they discover that an actual supernatural threat has been causing the girls of a remote village to disappear. An immortal Queen (Monica Bellucci) has been stealing the girls’ youth via an enchanted mirror. While she cannot leave the tall tower where she lives, a werewolf huntsman (Tomáš Hanák) does her bidding. In helping to rid the huntsman of his werewolf curse, Will becomes entrapped by the Queen’s magic, leaving Jake to shatter the magic mirror and releasing the youthful energy trapped within it. Even with the Queen defeated, the girls of the village remain trapped in a state of slumber. It’s up to Jake to kiss the last of the twelve girls in order to wake them all up and break the last piece of the curse. With the adventure over, the brothers mull over the idea of writing down their adventures.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 conglomerations of characters

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#311. Vampire Hunters

Of all the fictional monsters that have permeated our popular culture, vampires are both the hardest and easiest to kill. Their superhuman abilities already make them a formidable threat to the safety of the populace, but add to this their nigh-invulnerability to traditional weapons and now you have an undead monster that cannot be killed. Much like zombies, though, vampires have a few simple weaknesses that can make them easy to vanquish. Simple things like silver and sunlight can solve a vampire problem, much like fire and headshots clean up a zombie mess. That being said, even with these simple weapons at our disposal, vampires are cunning creatures and have ways to avoid being killed. This week’s two films focus on the vampire hunters who have been trained to dispatch vampires straight to hell.

                                           Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Year: 2012
Rating: R
Length: 105 minutes / 1.75 hours

The nice thing about history not being all-inclusive is that certain ideas can be implied that help to explain away some of the lesser-known causes of world-changing events. Much like the National Treasure franchise links together moments from American history in an entertaining way, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) takes the well-known history of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War and puts a vampiric twist on it. After all, if you have a character who has a nickname of “rail splitter,” then what better way to kill vampires than to decapitate them with a silver-bladed axe? It helps to have an understood lore of vampires in order to smoothly integrate it with an alternate view of history. After all, sometimes what we know about history and what we know about vampires can be combined into an interesting “what if” story.

Upon seeking revenge for the death of his mother, Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) discovers that her supposed poisoning was actually the effects of being bitten by a vampire. Said vampire, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) nearly kills Lincoln, but is stopped by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). Sturgess sees potential in Lincoln and soon gives him the tools and skills necessary to dispatch a vampire like Barts. Years later, Lincoln finally kills Barts, but not before learning that Sturgess is also a vampire who was turned into this form by Adam (Rufus Sewell), the first vampire on American soil. Adam has set up his immortal kingdom in the southern states of the country, mostly because of the almost unlimited access to the blood of the slaves. After giving up the life of a vampire hunter, now President Lincoln sees the Civil War for what it really is and can now use it to eradicate vampires from his country.

Van HelsingVan Helsing
Year: 2004
Rating: PG-13
Length: 131 minutes / 2.18 hours

Most of what we know about vampires came from Bram Stoker’s gothic novel, Dracula. Not only did this book cover the powers of these blood-sucking beasts, but it also gave insight into how to kill them. The leading authority on vampire hunting from this book was none other than Abraham Van Helsing. His knowledge of how to take down vampires has made him the de facto and original vampire hunter. Consequently, the name Van Helsing is eponymous with vampire hunting, even if the characters based on him aren’t exactly the same as the one from the novel. Case in point, Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) from the 2004 action film, Van Helsing, has a different origin story than Abraham Van Helsing, but still maintains his expert skill at dispatching vampires, as well as any number of paranormal creatures.

Employed by the Catholic church to hunt and kill monsters, Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) would be haunted by the deaths of many of these killings, were it not for his amnesia preventing him from remembering them. Upon his arrival back at the Vatican after dispatching Mr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane), Van Helsing learns that his next mission is to take out Dracula (Richard Roxburgh), who has already partnered with Victor Frankenstein (Samuel West) to execute a nefarious scheme. Once in Transylvania, the minions of Dracula, including a werewolf and a number of vampire brides, hinder Van Helsing’s progress. Along the way, he finds Frankenstein’s monster (Shuler Hensley) and stays his killing strike once he learns the reanimated corpse isn’t evil. Because of his mercy, he learns of Dracula’s plan to reanimate an army of vampire children. Now it’s up to him to stop the plan and kill Dracula.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 vampire vanquishers

#211. Hugh Jackman

Occasionally you run across an actor who seems to have been acting forever, but in reality just hit his defining role early on in his career. Hugh Jackman is just such an actor. Sure, he acted in television in his native Australia, but his first film role was only in 1999. With a few exceptions, he has acted in a film every year since. In fact, most years he’s acted in multiple films. On average, he has appeared in nearly three films every year he has been acting. Of course, his most prolific year was 2006 with six films. And yet, even though his defining role typecast him somewhat, Jackman has used his skills from the stage to earn himself some credibility past the action hero stereotype. Only fifteen years into his career and Hugh Jackman has long since been an A-list actor. This week’s two films look at his diverse talents.

Real SteelReal Steel
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 127 minutes / 2.12 hours

A year after appearing in his first film, Hugh Jackman was cast in the role of a lifetime. In X-Men (2000), Jackman portrayed Logan (nicknamed Wolverine), the cigar chomping, adamantium-infused-claw wielding, and fast healing mutant that made him an instant star. He has acted in this role six more times, two of which were X-Men films revolving entirely around his character (X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and The Wolverine (2013)). Although, most of the films pretty heavily revolved around Wolverine, so this distinction is not too impressive. At any rate, this role set him as yet another action hero. As such, he has starred in such action films as Van Helsing (2004), Chappie (2015), and Real Steel (2011), the latter two of this list just coincidentally revolving around robots. When you start your career portraying a man with a metal skeleton, robots are not far off.

Charles “Charlie” Kenton (Hugh Jackman) was once at the top of his game as a boxer. Unfortunately, when his job became obsolete due to the arrival of robotic boxers, he struggled to find his niche. While he might have been a threat in the ring as a man, he just can’t get the hang of controlling these boxing robots. Incredibly in debt, he now finds himself fighting to keep full custody of his child, Max (Dakota Goyo). Fortunately, Max takes an interest in robotic boxing, which leads the two of them to acquire a formerly famous robot to fight for them. Unfortunately, it is destroyed during its first fight. In a junkyard, they find an old, functioning sparring robot that Max convinces Charlie to get into fighting shape due to the robot’s unique ability to mimic its user’s motions. Now Charlie is essentially back in the ring and making his way up the ranks to take on the global champion.

Les MisérablesLes Misérables
Year: 2012
Rating: PG-13
Length: 158 minutes / 2.63 hours

Alongside his action hero persona, Jackman also has a lighter side. On screen, he has been in a few romantic films, including Kate & Leopold (2001), Scoop (2006), and Australia (2008). Simultaneously, he has spent time on the stage, performing in musicals. It’s no wonder that he has used his voice in film as well. He has had a number of voice acting roles in animated fare, including Happy Feet (2006), Flushed Away (2006), and Rise of the Guardians (2012). Of course, the one film that gave him any recognition from the Academy was Les Misérables. This opera based off of the stage musical really gave Hugh Jackman the chance to show his talent as an actor and a singer. For his role as Jean Valjean, he was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar. Even if he didn’t win, the variety of work he has performed means that it might not be too long before his next nomination.

Recently released convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) easily goes back to his thieving ways after nearly 20 years in prison. However, a Bishop shows him kindness, even forgiving him for stealing the clergyman’s silver. The one condition for this gift is for Valjean to do something worthwhile with his life. Years later, Valjean now owns a factory and is mayor of a French town. Unfortunately, his former prison guard, Javert (Russell Crowe) recognizes Valjean when he helps lift a cart from an accident. The cat-and-mouse between them begins just as Valjean picks up an orphaned girl. They both escape to Paris where she grows up and eventually gets romantically involved with the revolution that is forming. Javert finds Valjean in Paris and is confused when he is shown mercy, despite the relentless chase. His adopted daughter’s fiancé is rescued by Valjean, and both are saddened that he cannot be with them at their wedding, as he has since died.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 halves of Hugh Jackman

Bacon #: 1 (X-Men: First Class / Kevin Bacon)