Victor Frankenstein (2015) / Horror-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for macabre images, violence and a sequence of destruction
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Bronson Webb, Spencer Wilding, Freddie Fox
Small role (voice): Charles Dance
Director: Paul McGuigan
Screenplay: Max Landis (inspired by the book, "Frankenstein", by Mary Shelley)
Review published November 26, 2015
Director Paul McGuigan (Push, Lucky Number Slevin) cranks the volume and energy to the utmost proportions, yet still can't over over the significant problems with Victor Frankenstein. This version takes a new spin on the classic 19th Century Mary Shelley work, "Frankenstein", crafting an origin story of a potential new franchise featuring the titular mad inventor. In this case, the tale is spun from the viewpoint of the man who who eventually comes to be known as Igor (Radcliffe, Trainwreck), whom we meet at the beginning of the film working as a hunchback clown and amateur doctor all of his life in a circus that makes him a perpetual whipping boy. (Trivia: in the original novel, Frankenstein had no lab assistant).
After medical student Victor Frankenstein (McAvoy, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) witnesses this lad's ingenuity in human anatomy, he facilitates the hunchback's escape, taking him in as his laboratory assistant at his home in London, and healing him from his pus-filled hump. Scotland Yard is hot on their trail, so Frankenstein gives his new colleague a new look and identity, informing him of his plans to use electricity to bring dead tissue to life, which he intends to utilize to bring back the dead entirely.
The movie's action set pieces, punchy visual energy, and comical interplay between Dr. Frankenstein and Igor will likely immediately call to mind another revisionist property reboot of a Victorian-era public domain work, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, complete with steampunk-y overtones. While bromantic leads, spittle-spewing McAvoy and hair extension-sporting Radcliffe, give their roles their all by going into hyperactively hammy mode throughout, they can't breathe needed life into a witless script from Max Landis (American Ultra, Chronicle), which is loaded plenty of ridiculous ideas it can't wrangle into a satisfying whole. Coming across more campy than exciting, the movie has lots of fun referencing old Frankenstein films, and enough homoerotic subtext to entertain those looking for such things (For one: Victor siphons out his partner Igor's body fluids with a hose, then straps him in leather and forces him to walk erect before declaring him to be his partner).
Though Victor Frankenstein feels very much like a b-movie in its construct, there are some impressive technical elements, with some nice costume design, elaborate sets, and good cinematography to bolster the overall eye candy. The special effects aren't too bad, either, with rotting monstrosities and lots of grotesquely gory elements and which are surprising to find in a PG-13 film. While that campy vibe keeps the film watchable, it also is the reason why the film falls apart in the end, with an overblown and very violent ending that is neither fun nor thrilling, relegating Frankenstein's monster to insignificant importance to the overall narrative other than as a perfunctory boss-battle climax. It's a leaden end to a fairly free-wheeling film, burdened even further by an unconvincing attempt to give an overriding reason for arrogant Victor Frankenstein's maniacal drive to bring the dead back to life involving guilt for causing the death of someone close to him. Neither an effective comedy nor tragedy, the film fails to settle into a tone that works, other than being an oddity, and even then, it only succeeds so far before disintegrating.
It's an absurd film, which sometimes is so over the top that it lends to a certain unintentionally humorous vibe, especially when McGuigan thinks this vaguely developed film is much funnier and more exciting than it actually plays. Given that their grand monstrosity requires two hearts to bring to life, it's a bit of an irony that the film never comes to life itself, probably because the patchwork screenplay is also half-hearted. It's not Shelley's "Frankenstein" brought back to life; it's a festering reanimated monstrosity harvested and stitched together from questionable sources.
©2015 Vince Leo