Universal is going all-in on creating a cinematic universe that brings together all the studio's classic monsters, and will appropriately be releasing a string of reboots over the next few years, including new takes on Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. Among the characters getting the reboot treatment will be famed vampire-hunter Van Helsing, who was last seen on movie screens in 2004's Van Helsing in the person of Hugh Jackman.
We'll get a better idea of what this new Universal Monsters universe (not to be confused with the MonsterVerse) will look and feel like when The Mummy rolls out this summer, starring no less a personage than Tom Cruise. In the meantime, creative people involved with the movies are willing to give us hints about how they are approaching these characters, and how these approaches may differ from a lot of what we see in the movies these days.
The new Van Helsing may not have a director or a star yet, but it does have a pair of writers: Passengers writer Jon Spaihts and Arrival writer Eric Heisserer. Mr. Heisserer, who has become a sought-after talent with Arrival taking off, talked about his view of Van Helsing with Collider and provided some insight into this new relatively down-to-earth incarnation of the character:
“Well I guess the biggest thing that’s already been said is it’s contemporary, it’s a modern-day reimagining… I can talk about my emotional state of what I’ve been passionate about or sometimes frustrated by are the number of films where we find an extraordinary character with superhuman abilities that becomes a hero to solve a problem that a normal person cannot solve. And I was eager to try and buck that trend and showcase someone who had no extraordinary powers, just resourcefulness and will and kind of a stubbornness who’s able to tackle some of these bigger problems. Because I don’t like the idea that we’re infusing our public and our pop culture with the idea that only super people can solve the world’s problems. I like the idea of the everyday hero stepping up to the plate and getting things fixed.”
The 2004 version of Van Helsing was criticized for being too over-the-top and CGI-laden, and it sounds like the writing team for the reboot wants to at least somewhat re-ground the story in reality (it's set in the present day, so that's a start). In the same interview however, Heisserer promises "a bunch of supernatural creatures" will appear, so you can bet there will still be plenty of CGI and action; though perhaps presented with a little more restraint than Stephen Sommers brought to the 2004 film. The key thing is that the human characters will not be endowed with superhuman powers, but will instead be forced to draw upon guile and savvy to defeat their enemies, rather than simply being able to pound them into submission.
Of course, what the new Van Helsing ultimately becomes will also depend on who is brought in to direct. Eric Heisserer's Arrival script, which certainly reflected his interest in stories about regular people using their own resourcefulness to do extraordinary things, benefited greatly by being handled by Denis Villeneuve, a director who is good at creating suspense and tension inside a realistic environment. In the wrong directorial hands, Van Helsing could still become an unrealitsic CGI mess, regardless of what the writers intend.
So far all we have to go by in judging the future of the Universal Monster universe is the trailer for The Mummy, and that looks like a movie that tries to blend spectacle with down-to-earth action. We're a long way from having any idea what direction the Van Helsing reboot will ultimately go with its take on the universe, but we'll keep an eye on developments.