Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Macabre Images, Violence and a sequence of Destruction.
Directed by: Paul McGuigan
Written by: Max Landis
(based on the novel FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley)
Starring: James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Charles Dance, Freddie Fox & Mark Gatiss
For some reason, Hollywood seems very eager to put new spins on old monsters. Many recent efforts have flopped and specific titles have turned out downright embarrassing. I’ve seen Benicio Del Toro turn into a CGI werewolf and gallop along rooftops. I tried not to burst out laughing at the stupidity of Frankenstein’s monster fighting hordes of gargoyles and demons. I walked away disappointed as Dracula/Vlad the Impaler became a medieval superhero. The latest incarnation of a classic horror tale made new is VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN…and it’s not that bad. The film isn’t necessarily great either, but I enjoyed VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN as big dumb fun that left me reasonably entertained.
One night at a rundown circus, brilliant student Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) witnesses a nameless hunchback (Daniel Radcliffe) saving a dying acrobat’s life through improvised surgery and quick thinking. In an act of kindness, Victor frees the knowledgeable and socially awkward hunchback, names him “Igor,” and makes him a partner in his newfangled medical projects. Victor believes that man can create life through scientific means and his radical experiments evolve into horrific crimes against nature. Igor witnesses Victor’s transformation from man to calculating monster. All the while, a wealthy classmate (Freddie Fox) sees Victor’s life-giving potential as a possible means for power and a deeply religious police inspector (Andrew Scott) vows to put a violent stop to the gruesome experiments.
VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN’s atmospheric visuals capture the creepy 18th century setting through detailed sets and seamless background effects. Frankenstein’s monstrous creations take a backseat to the origin story between Victor and Igor. This might sound like a misguided idea, but screenwriter Max Landis injects a bit of believable humanity into these two otherwise notorious horror characters. Igor is portrayed as a sympathetic guy who has never known kindness until he finds a friendship to hold onto with Victor. However, the film also makes the distinct choice to erase Igor’s hunchback through a disgusting sight gag that made me giggle, but ultimately appears to have been done purely out of the interest of making Daniel Radcliffe look more attractive…for the ladies. His upright look certainly appeals to on-screen love-interest Lorelei (Jessica Brown Friday), who serves as a convenient plot device during a couple of scenes and little else.
James McAvoy delivers the film’s best performance as the titular mad scientist that we all know and love. An interesting backstory is added to this 2015 version of Frankenstein, but the reason for why Victor desperately wants to create life is given through ham-fisted exposition. McAvoy’s best scenes come in his confrontations with inspector Turpin and an argument with his high-society father (Charles Dance in a one-scene role). Concerning the film’s antagonists, Freddie Fox is underdeveloped as cocky classmate Finnegan and Andrew Scott is solid as deeply religious inspector Roderick Turpin. Turpin’s villainy is fun to watch as the character is arguably always trying to do the right thing, but goes overboard as his investigation becomes obsessive. I wish that Finnegan had been totally discarded and Turpin had instead taken the reigns as the script’s sole villain. That might have made for a more interesting film.
As far as Victor’s mad science experiments go, we only receive a rabid undead monkey, the expected monster, and a bunch of severed body parts. These add some PG-13 level gore to the mix and are mostly executed in a light-hearted, fun tone that seems to be mimicking Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES series. This comparison can be taken even further when you realize that both SHERLOCK and VICTOR employ a lot of slow motion and quirky stylistic touches (we see anatomy grids layered over the action during a few key scenes). VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN’s anticipated final creature is a letdown, because his presence basically boils down to being an excuse for explosions and a fistfight. Even at its worst though, this movie remains entertaining in a dumb fun sort of way.
VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN is better than I, FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA UNTOLD, and VAN HELSING, which might sound like a back-handed compliment. The script has a handful of creative scenes. The gloomy atmosphere is fun. Most of the humor works. James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe build believable enough chemistry together, though the latter should have kept his misshapen hunchback appearance (I realize this might be seen as a nitpick). The writing is occasionally messy though as many cool ideas are frequently overshadowed by action clichés and uneven pacing. As a whole, I’d recommend VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN to those who just want to see a quirky original-ish spin on classic material. It’s fun while it lasts, but will almost certainly be wiped from my mind in a few days’ time.