I, Frankenstein (2014) / Action-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence throughout
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto, Jai Courtney, Socratis Otto, Aden Young, Caitlin Stasey, Mahesh Jadu
Director: Stuart Beattie
Screenplay: Stuart Beattie (based on the comic book by Kevin Grevioux)
Review published January 28, 2014
One can only wonder just how much fun I, Frankenstein might have been with a little tongue-in-cheek flair. It worked well in similar films such as Hellboy and Pitch Black, but as a director, Stuart Beattie (scripter of other comic-book properties, GI Joe: Rise of Cobra and 30 Days of Night) doesn't realize that his own writing plays better for silly laughs than it does for serious-minded fantasy-action thrills. Those that actually watch the film will likely laugh at its expense, with cheesy dialogue and ham-fisted concepts that one rarely sees outside of a campy comic book -- probably not a surprise, as this started out as just that in 2009.
Aaron Eckhart (Erased, Battle: Los Angeles) stars, not as Frankenstein, but rather the classic "monster" as written from the writings of Mary Shelley. He's a reanimated corpse comprised of the organs of many other dead people, brought to life over two-hundred years prior by Dr. Victor Frankenstein. The two spar, resulting in the death of Dr. Frankenstein and his main squeeze, while the creature is subsequently attacked by demons, who themselves are thwarted by a legion of gargoyles. The queen of the gargoyles, Leonore (Otto, War of the Worlds), dubs the creature "Adam", seeing him as a new life, and hopes the powerful entity will use his great strength and agility to do good by fighting along with them against the demons, with whom they've been battling for ages.
Flash forward to today, where a powerful demon named Prince Naberius (Nighy, About Time) is posing among humans as the head of a science facility studying reanimation of dead tissue, which he will use in order to bring back his fallen demons in order to turn the tide against the gargoyles. With the help of the world's elite scientists on his side, he means to get a hold of Victor Frankenstein's original diary to follow, as well as Adam's body to study, and perhaps inhabit (as he is not made by God, he has no soul) in order to being his nefarious schemes to life, literally.
As Beattie has little intention of finding amusement in his own screenplay, or in making things entertaining beyond so-bad-it's-good hokum in the plot developments, there's really very little one can do in order to be interested in what's going on up on the silver screen save to admire some relatively punchy special effects and set designs. Beattie puts all of his eggs in one basket, which is to try to shore up enough mythos in order to deliver plenty of cataclysmic aerial fighting among the stony gargoyles and fiery demons, who all lay waste to large city structures below. One can only wonder why humanity allows all of this to transpire without a fight -- is it too much to ask our armed forces to try to protect us while demons and gargoyles dominate the night sky and threaten millions of people in the buildings below?
But, despite the emphasis on visuals, it's all a wash; the effects themselves barely hold up when the film is shot this dark and gloomy, and though purportedly set in the world as we know it today, the nondescript cityscapes and cathedral-like interior designs leave us feeling as though we're just watching a lengthy collection of cut scenes in a well-designed video game than in an honest-to-goodness story worthy of a major release.
The promotional material for I, Frankenstein tries to get out a loyal fan base by pushing forward the notion that it is made by the creators of Underworld (including comic "I, Frankenstein" author Kevin Grevioux, who came up with the Underworld concept and even acted in the films), though those fans will likely wonder why they aren't getting another film in that franchise rather than what amounts to a near-remake in plotline, replacing vampires and werewolves with gargoyles and demons, and re-casting Bill Nighy to play another variation of the same heavy. The lengthy opening montage with voiceover is a sure sign that this film has been gutted down from a fuller production in order to capitalize on getting one more showing in per theater with a 90-minute run time.
While it's not without its occasional moment of interest, and Eckhart is certainly game to be the next potential cool cinematic antihero, I, Frankenstein is too sketchy in design and murky in presentation to deliver much to those who aren't just eye-candy fanatics. Beattie's film lives up to its name by being just a "Frankenstein" of a story of its own, picking all of its ideas off of a myriad of far better movies of time gone by. Nevertheless, the body of this monstrosity is missing two vital components necessary to bring it to life, namely, a heart and brains.
©2014 Vince Leo