It’s honestly difficult to have high expectations when putting down money to see a movie called “I, Frankenstein.” Connotations of 2004’s futuristic flop-fest “I, Robot” aside, the title suggests nothing more than another movie that mistakes the name of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, calling him Frankenstein even though the good doctor never gave his creation a proper title. So, full of the knowledge that I’d be able to write a haughty, “wow this movie sucked, guys” review, I planted myself into my theater seat, opened my notepad and prepared to be disappointed.
I wasn’t. I honestly kind of loved it.
“I, Frankenstein” follows Dr. Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart, “The Dark Knight”) as he learns about the ongoing battle between demons and angelic gargoyles. He meets the queen of the gargoyles and dramatic looks, Leonore (Miranda Otto), who names him Adam and offers him a spot on her team using his strength to fight the forces of evil. As a lone, muttering warrior, Adam bails and spends the next 200 years hunting demons solo, until he lumbers into contemporary London and finds himself playing a huge role in their epic war.
This isn’t a groundbreaking film, nor is it devoid of flaws. Instead, it is good, fun eye candy, and a faithful interpretation of the original graphic novel of the same name, created by Kevin Grevioux. In the graphic novel and original screenplay, Grevioux explores the role of God — a concept tackled head-on by the film’s ongoing question of whether Adam has a soul. Created by man and thrown into the world without much say in the matter, Adam is aptly named. Given no guidance in his creation or understanding of the world, he follows a mantra of growling in the faces of angelic gargoyles and hellish demons alike. He is his own man, not subject to the whims or orders of others.
Eckhart broods well, and his contributions to the totally badass fight scenes were worth the ticket price alone; he trained with martial arts experts in the Filipino martial art of kali, which shows beautifully when he gets into a fast-paced stick fight with one of the main villain’s demonic baddies. Unfortunately, while Eckhart may be physically sound — his unnecessary shirtless scene is a testament to that chiseled fact — his emotive powers don’t quite translate on screen, which is a shame, given his standout performance as Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight.” Instead, Eckhart acts in favor of the idea that Adam never would have learned how to deal with emotions in the first place — which is fine, but makes his rare poignant moments fall flat.
The supporting cast holds their own, as Yvonne Strahovski plays the heck out of Dr. Terra Wade in the film’s beginning, working under demon prince Naberius (Bill Nighy) to study Dr. Frankenstein’s reanimation methods. Unfortunately, the writing for her character falters toward the end, as she is forced into a love interest side-plot with Adam (it was awkward) and fades into the background as the film progresses. Nighy, on the other hand, takes his role and runs with it, savoring each line with that characteristically plummy-yet-loquacious way of his. Charismatic, yes. Dark and dangerous demon prince, not so successful — but that’s okay, because watching him move through scenes is a treat alone. In Dr. Wade’s lab, as he’s giving orders and listening to Wade’s report, he picks up and replaces lab objects as if he knows what he’s doing — and he obviously doesn’t, and it’s charming in all of its excess.
Speaking of excess, this film plays a lot with glamor. Wide, sweeping shots of the gargoyles’ Gothic cathedral home; scores of suited demons flooding the streets of a conveniently empty London in droves, not unlike “The Matrix”; epic battle sequences in which felled demons erupt into a fiery explosion before descending to hell — the film doesn’t hide its budget, and it’s glorious in all of its absurd glory. Don’t bother paying the extra few bucks for 3D; the regular, non-headachy version showcases the film’s dramatic special effects just fine.
I can’t quite say why I kind of loved this film. I didn’t love-love it, but I more-than-liked it. Maybe it was the surprisingly deft way the writers established the rules of Adam’s world. Maybe it was the sheer spectacle of the piece, showcasing both engaging fight sequences and dramatic explosions. Maybe it was the sheer illogic of some elements of the film, such as the gargoyle forces not knowing that the demon headquarters were literally a short walk away. Whatever it was, “I, Frankenstein” is a film to rent and watch with friends, arms full of popcorn and frosty adult beverages, reveling in the immersive scope of creator Grevioux’s and director Stuart Beattie’s vision. And in that way, it succeeds.
Rating: 3 stars