"You've heard this story before..." Those are the first words spoken by Daniel Radcliffe's disembodied voice at the start of Victor Frankenstein. This is said to remind the audience of the many film adaptations of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, at the same time implying that this version brings something new to the table. Although this iteration does breathe some much-needed freshness into this almost 200-year-old monster story, its glaring flaws keep the film from truly standing out from its predecessors.
What does stand out about this particular story is that it goes beyond Shelley's cautionary tale of what happens when you "play God," focusing more on the relationship between Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) than their creations. James and Daniel have an electric chemistry (no pun intended) and when the story focuses on the two of them working together, the movie truly feels compelling.
The creatures Victor and Igor bring to life are also incredible to watch. Aside from when the monsters are featured in action sequences, the creatures are brought to life with practical makeup and effects. Gordon, a mix between a chimpanzee and a few other animals, was commanded by several puppeteers during filming, which really helps the audience emotionally connect with him.
Also adding to the film’s authenticity is the fact that McAvoy and Radcliffe performed a lot of their own stunts throughout the movie. No good monster story is complete without long chases and intense brawls, and the first and last acts of the movie have both. The practical effects mixed seamlessly with the CGI will likely keep viewers at the edge of their seats.
So, how does a film doing so many things well not manage to live up to most of its predecessors? For a film that is more focused on characters than monsters, Victor Frankenstein doesn't feel fleshed out or grounded in any way, taking away any gravitas from the underlying message of "playing god."
Max Landis' script aims to take chances with some of Shelley's characters and when it works, it works well. Igor is given a new lease on life, providing both himself and the audience with a wonderful friendship that is compelling and endearing. Despite these good attributes, the many things wrong with this film are also hard to ignore. One-note characters and side stories that feel contrived seriously take away from what could have been a very solid film.
Although you can't help but want the best for Igor—especially after everything he has been through in his short life—there is no chemistry between him and romantic interest Lorelei. Played by Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey, Albatross), Lorelei certainly is feisty and brings a playful, lighthearted tone to the movie, but she feels too one-dimensional and only exists to be "the girl." The main Inspector, Roderick Turpin (Andrew Scott), represents the religious side of the argument in Shelley's novel, but he's another one-dimensional character that feels like he only exists to be an obstacle in the way of Dr. Frankenstein's ultimate goal.
The film also suffers from a second act that slows the momentum that had been built in the beginning to a grinding halt. It can work in some movies to give the audience a chance to catch their breath and process what they have just seen, but in Victor Frankenstein the pacing slows down so much that by the time the third act begins, it is difficult to place yourself back into the story.
Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin, BBC's Sherlock) can handle working with interesting characters and well-executed action scenes, so when this film is running on all cylinders, it is very entertaining to watch. Igor and Dr. Frankenstein have a wonderful chemistry that makes their friendship feel both compelling and endearing. The action is intense and the creatures are beautiful and creepy at the same time. However, what doesn't work in this film is just too hard to ignore. The story aims to take chances with some of Shelley's characters but so many of them, including Victor, are either too flat or too over-the-top and it seriously takes away from what could have been a very solid film.
Movie Score: 2.5/5