Overview: The original story by Mary Shelley as told from the point of view of Igor the hunchback. 20th Century Fox; 2015; Rated PG-13; 110 minutes.
Frankenstein: There’s something tragically beautiful in the story of Victor Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster. Only slight portions of this latest incarnation, from director Paul McGuigan and screenwriter Max Landis, resembles the versions of the story with which audiences are already familiar. Initially there is an energy to the proceedings with a hyper-stylized look at the Victorian era England along with some patchwork style genre mishmash from buddy cop action movies to steampunk inspired designs before devolving into a take on the Frankenstein story.
As In the Monster: The biggest problem with this movie might be its insistence on being an adaptation of Shelley’s Frankenstein. Much like the assortment of body parts and scientific laboratories, Victor Frankenstein aims to crowd please with the seemingly fresh approach to consistently bastardized literature. It’s on par with Dracula Untold as a movie that doesn’t so much leave a thudding nuisance as it lands right in the ballpark of disappointing expectations. The real heartbreaker is we haven’t had a good adaptation of Frankenstein in sometime. Most movies seem to spin an action adventure vibe on this material. iFrankenstein still holds the title of heaviest misunderstanding of gothic horror text.
Much like this year’s earlier cinematic abortion, Fantastic Four, the core creative concept might not make for a good adaptation but if fleshed out properly it may have made for a good movie with the title of a different property. I admire the aspiration to do something different with a property that feels beholden to endless amounts of lesser copycats. Tim Burton’s Batman is a terrible adaptation, but a pretty good movie in its own right. At least that movie pops with a distinct visual flair. The cinematography in Victor Frankenstein is the spiritual successor to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Van Helsing. While I consider one of those movies an immense guilty pleasure, Victor Frankenstein has a stale BBC drama look to it, as in, it looks finely suited for TV but for the big screen, it’s too flat.
As In the Cast: If I had to recommend this movie for anything, it might be the decent cast chemistry. The cast is at its best when everyone is hamming it up appropriately for material that blends genres and reads as fan-fiction, and I mean borderline slash-fiction material at some points. James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe’s electric chemistry exhilarates what would otherwise be dull affairs and discussions. Radcliffe plays Igor with just the right amount of innocence and wide eyed wonder to be lovable. McAvoy triples down on eccentricities, breathing an unfamiliar lifestyle approach to the titular character. In a better movie, audiences would clamor for sequels if only to see more of these actors collaborate onscreen together again. Somebody remind the universe to reunite these two on a future project please.
Jessica Brown Findlay is, as always, underutilized. The actress always has a sense of restraint about herself, constantly wanting to burst free from the shackles of pigeonholed roles for women. Sadly, her one episode spot on Misfits remains the highlight of her career. Meanwhile, Andrew Scott can’t seem to get out of roles where he plays the sneering antagonist. I can’t help but imagine everyone saw his Moriarty performance on Sherlock, and decided they wanted him to do that for his entire career. He’s given slightly more to do here, but there’s only so much more he can pull from.
Overall: It’s a shame I can’t fully recommend Victor Frankenstein. Mind you, this is coming from an advocate for Van Helsing and Stephen Sommers’ Mummy reboot, and I’m all for the adventure and character steady approach to classic horror stories. Maybe next time the stars will align for a movie that gets these elements right and proper.