As a devout fan of the original Universal monster films, I am always eager to witness a modern reboot of any of the many franchises. There is much room for variation and innovation in a film maker’s vision of what can be sewn from the primary seeds. Modern day writers, actors, and directors may all be influenced by the first versions in their ingenuity and brilliance. It takes little skill at all to either tread the well worn ground of a note by note reiteration of the filmed Hollywood takes that have come many times before, or to give a straightforward adaptation of the source material. What is necessary for a movie to stand out from the crowd is a novel approach that does not insult its prose forbearer nor does it mock the limits of what an audience will accept. True originality should accentuate the genius of a tale by employing what formerly worked as a form of springboard.
Max Landis’ script for Victor Frankenstein does indeed dare to season the story it seeks to retell with plot bits and pieces never before seen, and that becomes both the film’s success and its downfall. I am left both delighted by its willingness to take risks, and shaking my head by the immense gaps of logic.
Please allow me to begin with what I deemed to be its positive attributes. First and foremost, I was enthralled by the aesthetic of the film. This is a gorgeous movie, a veritable feast for the eyes. As my family has a long and storied history in theater, I was fascinated by this film’s costuming. Marvelous work that is both era appropriate and visually stunning. The sets are beautiful and meticulously detailed, featuring much in the way of innovation and dynamic usage of available space. Frankenstein’s laboratory is of particular curiosity in its unusual industrial eccentricity.
Regarding the feature’s acting, James McAvoy is the only performer who truly stands out. Daniel Radcliff, as Igor, is either limited by wide eyed amazement, or hopelessly helpless and ineffectual. McAvoy as Victor himself is truly entertaining in a manic portrayal that may have been a choice on his part or possibly the result of inspired direction. Imagine Frankenstein as somewhere between Tom Baker’s Dr. Who and Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark with a dash of Oldman’s speedfreak cop from Leon the Professional thrown in as flourish. He was absolutely my favorite element.
Another piece of unexpected originality was the inclusion of Victor’s family background, be it his wealthy and disapproving father, or his late brother whose death he attempts to compensate for with his reanimatory efforts.
And now to discuss the unsavory bits.
When Victor liberates Igor from the circus in which he essentially is kept as an indentured servant, he follows this act by “curing” Igor of the hunchback malady with a treatment that lasts all of five minutes. There is simply no possible way that the good doctor could have known the condition was no spinal deformity, but merely an infection run rampant in the total half hour he had known Igor, especially through minimal visual estimation only. It is a weak plot device meant to quickly pretty up Daniel Radcliff for the swooning female Potter devotees who are now grown into their early twenties. Left to his own devices, Igor proceeds to cut and style his own lengthy ratty and tangled hair into a perfect chin length bob using nothing save a single straight razor. Surprisingly, Victor has on hand clothing in Radcliff’s specific elfin size, permitting Igor to mill around in public unnoticed.
When the authorities deem both Victor and Igor wanted for a murder neither are guilty of, fliers featuring their perfect likenesses are plastered and wallpapered around town within twenty-four hours of the supposed crime being committed… even though the automatic printing press had not yet been invented. Topping that, the two attend a major social gala where Victor proceeds to drink himself silly, then ramble on about life and death with not a single attendee recognizing him. Rather unlikely.
There are also several laboratory moments which make no sense. A pair of disembodied eyes in a jar that move, looking around, though the ocular musculature required to do so is not attached. A creature is created by sewing together bits from animals of various species which proceeds to run around and antagonize anyone in the vicinity. Not only would the different types of tissue and organs reject each other on a cellular level, the simple mechanics of anatomy dictate that the musculature and skeletal structure of such a beast would disallow any successful form of movement. It just would not work. I am not even going to address the sheer absurdity of the notion that giving one being multiple hearts and multiple sets of lungs would somehow help to prevent the damage wrought by contact with lightning. Please save that pseudo-scientific rubbish for the next Re-Animator sequel.
Now, I will, however, admit that while the final monster of legend looks somewhat like a professional wrestler in a Don Post Halloween mask, the visual effects for the amalgamated patchwork beast came off as amazing, disturbing, and horrifying.
While Victor Frankenstein was not the abysmal garbage its spiritual cousin Van Helsing turned out to be, I am completely torn in two with my opinion by the contrasting positives and negatives. I give the film five out of ten spooks.