Take a Drink: whenever the words “life,” “creation” or “alive” are spoken.
Do a Shot: whenever it’s mentioned that Victor saved Igor (he seriously lords it over Igor like a fucking jealous boyfriend).
Take a Drink: each time someone speaks as the voice of reason.
Do a Shot: for each reference to another Frankenstein adaptation.
Take a Drink: for every vaguely homoerotic flourish to the Victor/Igor relationship.
By: Hawk Ripjaw (Four Beers) –
Victor Frankenstein opens with our narrating protagonist, this time the doctor’s assistant Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), as a hunchback in the circus, repeatedly maligned by his masters and hopelessly in love with trapeze artist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay). He actually doesn’t even have a name in the circus, until Lorelei falls from her trapeze and, close to death, is saved by the hunchback, who reveals himself to possess a miraculous working knowledge of medicine and physiology. By happenstance, Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy), a likely-insane alcoholic medical student, is visiting the circus and, seeing a squandered genius, daringly breaks his new friend from captivity in a rollicking chase sequence.
Victor gives Igor his name (it’s actually the name of Victor’s briefly-mentioned missing roommate), corrects the hunch, gives Igor clothes and a place to live, and recruits him on his mission to create life. At first, he doesn’t let Igor in on exactly what’s going on, until he does (Frankenstein will only say important things to Igor when he needs to get to the next scene of the movie). A demonstration at the college, which involves a Frankenstein monkey and a very frightened Igor and Lorelei, attracts the attention of the prodigious Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott), who has his own reason for despising Victor’s work. Despite Igor’s objections, Victor continues on with his work, and then in the last 10 minutes of the movie he creates the monster, a bunch of shit blows up, and that’s it.
There are a couple of things that work really surprisingly well with Victor Frankenstein. The first is the art direction and production design. This is a slick-looking movie. There’s a pseudo-steampunk setting, a nasty-looking inaugural attempt at chimpanzee reanimation, and the occasional overlay of medical jargon and handwritten diagrams when Igor or Victor look at a body. The overall look of the lab, the final castle, and the Inspector’s office are creatively robust and full of life. It draws some comparisons to the Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies, adaptations that I don’t particularly care for but at least looked nice.
James McAvoy is one of the best actors working today, and he continues to be great here. The writing by Max Landis for Victor is… okay. It gets across the idea that Victor is pretty much insane, but not much else besides that. McAvoy is energetic, emotional, and has something that the rest of this movie desperately needs. He takes a thinly-written character and injects a great deal of heart and passion into it. He has solid chemistry with Radcliffe, and their dynamic of McAvoy cranking up the camp while Radcliffe plays the straight man works well. Likewise, Andrew Scott is a blast as the hyper-religious, brooding Scotland Yard prodigy Turpin. There are moments of richly absurd camp sprinkled throughout the film, which were great and exactly why the film ends up far less fun than it should have been.
A couple of times a narrating Igor states “You know the story.” You got that right. With Frankenstein being one of the most-adapted stories of all time, each new attempt needs to at least do something different or fresh with the story. Here, we do get some changes, but they’re all either window dressing or completely unnecessary. Igor is hunched for maybe fifteen minutes of film, before Victor tells him that his hunch is a result of a large pus-filled boil on his back. In a spectacularly nasty gross-out moment, Victor stabs the boil and siphons out the pus by sucking it out through a tube into his mouth before spitting. There’s no reason to make Igor not a hunchback, expect for maybe that reboot logic where everyone has to look young and hot. The addition of Jessica Brown Findlay as Lorelei seems to exist only to humanize Igor and give him a love interest, and you could quite literally (and I mean literally) remove her from the story and it wouldn’t change a damn thing. Nothing that is changed in this story feels fresh, or fun, or unique, and it serves as a consistent reminder that this movie just has no reason for existing.
Let’s watch two trailers for the movie. They released on the same day and advertise two completely different films.
Guess what? The movie is all of that. Back and forth the tone switches. It goes for playful and exciting in one moment, and heavy drama in another. Action movie one-liners drop in some areas, and in others characters wax poetic about the consequences of toying with God’s design. It has no idea whether it wants to keep its tongue in its cheek, and whenever one tone starts to feel comfortable it’s yanked away in favor of another.
There are several moments in Victor Frankenstein that appear to be going for one thing, but then… don’t. A standout is when the friends are talking at the end of a night of heavy drinking, and Victor looks wistfully at his pocket watch. Igor asks him if the watch is important to him, and then we fade out and move onto a different scene, with no context on that watch for at least another 30 minutes. In another scene, the Inspector has had his hand mangled in a fight with Victor and is seen later with a prosthetic wooden hand and eye patch, which we again get not payoff on. You don’t give a dude a badass wooden hand and just evacuate any later reference to that.
Foolhardy as it would have been to turn this story into a straight action flick, the only times the movie actually comes alive are when the fists and fire fly. Is it dumb to stage an elaborate circus escape chase sequence where Victor shows himself to be moderately proficient at hand-to-hand combat, or a climax in which the castle laboratory explodes with enough pyrotechnics and sparks to rival a Rammstein concert? Of course it is, but that kind of shit is so stupidly endearing that whenever it shows up it makes the bad movie lover in me positively giddy with the possibilities.
The title card is pretty dumb, too. Igor asks Victor Frankenstein who he is as he walks away. Victor puts on his hat, whips around with a smile and there’s a smash cut to the title card with a freeze frame on his smiling face. It screams of indulgent stupidity, yet we couldn’t get anything like it in the rest of the movie.
Movies don’t get more benign than this. How disappointing it is to report to you that Victor Frankenstein is not the hilariously misguided action adventure it seemed certain to become from those first trailers, nor is it satisfying as a hip, post-modern reimagining of the classic story. It honestly feels as cobbled together as the famous monster itself, a slapdash patchwork of disparate elements that coagulate into an aggressively mediocre picture. It’s equally frustrating that the pieces are in place for a rip-roaring “so bad it’s good” treat, but it fails at each point to capitalize on anything truly fun. Worse, there are distinct moments in the film where I could tell that I was supposed to be having fun and enjoying it, but I just wasn’t. It seems specifically calculated to be mindlessly entertaining, but instead comes across as a very hollow and ultimately very boring reimagining.