Victor Frankenstein

Posted by Joel Copling on November 24, 2015

"We all know this story," intones our titular doctor's faithful assistant in narration at each end of "Victor Frankenstein," and indeed, we the audience do know it. "The lightning strike," he continues, "the mad genius, the unholy creation." We know all this. We remember that Frankenstein's monster was created out of insane hubris. We recall that author Mary Shelley's novel was about the ideation of that hubris in a being that represented both the light and dark of scientific progress. There is nothing new to be gleaned from this story, which means new tellings must give us something that works in spite of that fact. Here is a movie that consistently falls short.

It does shift its focus curiously onto the assistant, however, which is the cleverest aspect of Max Landis' screenplay (one that otherwise all too often relies on callbacks to the novel). This version of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) is still a hunchback, but after he's the nameless main act of a circus show because of the malformation along his spine (actually an abscess full of pus that is removed in a particularly nasty sequence that exists to be a nasty sequence). He meets Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) when the object of Igor's affection, a trapeze artist named Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), falls from a great height and fractures two bones (which the men reset using fairly dubious medical skill).

Victor employs Igor to help him with a mysterious creation that, when revealed, turns out to be a crude version of the kind that comes later (Both are twisted effects creations, although in a rare twist, the one created on computers is eerier, built like a monkey but with some truly intimidating, otherworldly touches). It's during these sequences that Landis and director Paul McGuigan are on their game. There's a real sense of tension in the quiet moments before two different reanimations that capture the effect for which Shelley was going in the novel. It's unfortunate, then, that the film falls back on routine at nearly every opportunity.

An investigation of Igor's escape, spearheaded by Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott) from the circus (a scene of unnecessarily frantic motion) when it seems Victor is a part of it, but the subplot is deadly dull and played with lower energy than everything else here. The romantic subplot between Igor and Lorelei would be sweet if it had any consequence, but it doesn't. Action sequences largely mirror the opening one, and that includes a final showdown with the monster. The performances are adequate, though Radcliffe is best in his physicality of a man with a fairly significant back problem (A brace aids the regeneration of muscle memory). "Victor Frankenstein" suffers, though, from offering only the promise of something relatively fresh and failing to follow through.

Film Information

James McAvoy (Victor Von Frankenstein), Daniel Radcliffe (Igor), Jessica Brown Findlay (Lorelei), Andrew Scott (Inspector Turpin), Freddie Fox (Finnegan), Mark Gatiss (Dettweiler), Callum Turner (Alistair), Daniel Mays (Barnaby), Spencer Wilding (Nathaniel).

Directed by Paul McGuigan and written by Max Landis, based on the novel "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley.

Rated PG-13 (macabre images, violence, destruction).

109 minutes.

Released on November 25, 2015.