When one hears the name Frankenstein, one generally thinks of the monster, but there are those who do think of the man, the mad doctor who wanted to create life. Sadly, despite the star-studded cast, “Victor Frankenstein” would need more than a lightning bolt to save it from the writing that beats the film’s only metaphor to death.
“Victor Frankenstein,” directed by Paul McGuigan and written by Max Landis, focuses on Igor, played by Daniel Radcliffe, and how he became associated with Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and the monster. Igor is not in fact Igor according to this rendition of the well-known story; he is actually a nameless hunchbacked clown submitted to a form of indentured servitude to a travelling circus. The film immediately dives into the thought of what it means to be a man and what it is to be a monster by showing that the rest of the circus treats Igor less than cordially. Unfortunately, we see the cliche of Igor being shown as human through his romantic interest in the circus’s acrobat, Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay).
It is when Igor is treating an injured Lorelei (he doubles as the circus’ doctor) when he encounters Frankenstein. This is our first glance at the unfortunate choice of special effects as we see chalk drawings of broken bones and the circulatory system overlapping the actors to show the internal injuries that Lorelei has suffered. Amazed by his medical know-how, Frankenstein whisks Igor away from the circus in a manic scramble that leaves one member of the circus dead, which is how we are introduced to morally rigid Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott). He investigates the death as well as a series of thefts of freshly dead animal and human carcasses.
He then bestows Igor’s name upon him and assigns him the position of his assistant. A montage progresses showing the two the scientists working on reanimating various body parts as a part of a larger project, which, upon completion, Frankenstein says, “It’s alive.” And while I am glad that McAvoy did not scream this line to the heavens with lightning crashing in the background, it is still difficult to swallow the overused phrase; it’s a pity to see a good actor weighed down by bad writing. This is what happens when Hollywood attempts to take on one of the most familiar plots in all of history.
After a presentation of the finished project, a generous and self-centered benefactor, Finnegan, played by Freddie Fox (who could have been a member of the Malfoy family for all his blonde hair and sassiness), presents Frankenstein and Igor with the opportunity to fund their research in exchange for animating a man. Including Finnegan’s character is arbitrary at best to provide a blond enemy for Radcliffe. It’s during the research into this endeavor when the obsessed inspector rejoins the film and attempts to arrest the scientist for incredibly gross breaking of the laws of religion and morality. In their haste to escape, Frankenstein assaults the inspector and leaves him with half a hand and a dead eye, an obvious reference to the film’s message about how even a person who appears to be of virtue could be monstrous.
Igor sees that the experiment is leading to a dark and dangerous place and says that should he pursue this, Frankenstein’s legacy would be that of a monster’s (which is ironic given how many people refer to the creation as Frankenstein). Frankenstein throws a fit about this betrayal and screeches that he made Igor what he is and storms off to continue the experiment. Igor knows that he must chase after him in order to warn him of the double-cross that their benefactor wishes to carry out (big surprise from the Malfoy look-a-like). Despite Igor’s warnings, Frankenstein goes on with his ambitions and utilizes lightning to reanimate his monster. The monster breaks free (of course) and rampages through the lab, killing numerous involved in the experiment, including not-Malfoy and the inspector.
After stopping the monster, Frankenstein disappears, but not before leaving Igor a note saying that he may call upon him again for help in the future. In the note, Frankenstein mentions that Igor is his proudest creation, a line that I was hoping I wouldn’t hear for fear of suffering through the cliche. Though the overall film was not something that one would label as unsuccessful given normal circumstances, it was nowhere near what one would hope for. One would be able to leave the film half-way and miss absolutely nothing. The movie can be summed up in the first line alone, “You know the story. The crack of lightning. A mad genius.”
Rating: 2.5 stars