Last year “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” surprised everyone by being a dumbed down action/horror film that did really well in January. With a similar premise and release window, I’m sure “I, Frankenstein” was looking to achieve a comparable success. Unfortunately, the film was a flop this weekend. Should Frankenstein’s monster have been left dead or is there life in this film after all?
“I, Frankenstein” was directed by Stuart Beattie based on a script he wrote with Kevin Grevioux. Grevioux, if you don’t know, also worked on all the “Underworld” films. That’s a very important detail to remember because this movie feels very similar in tone and scope.
The film picks up where the original Mary Shelley tale ended. We see Victor Frankenstein pursuing his monstrous creation to the ends of the earth to destroy it. Victor dies in this pursuit, but instead of wanting to die with him, the monster (Aaron Eckhart) decides to take Victor back to his ancestral home to bury him. We’re given this setup in a very brief opening intro narrated by Aaron Eckhart who is doing his very best Batman impersonation. And I mean that with some sincerity, because I actually liked his gravelly Batman-esque voice.
While he is burying Victor’s body, the monster is attacked by demons looking to learn the secret to his immortality. It just so happens that a group of angels, disguised as gargoyles, are nearby and come to the monster’s rescue. The gargoyles then take him to their “queen” Leonore played by Miranda Otto
From here we’re given a bit more exposition where we learn that angels and demons are waging a war where humanity’s fate is in the balance. It’s as barebones as you can imagine. Thankfully, Leonore gives the monster the name of Adam. It’s a great relief for me, because now I don’t have to keep calling him “the monster”.
Adam wants nothing to do with the war, despite being a target of the demons, and leaves. Hundreds of years pass and Adam decides to finally come back to kill Naberious (Bill Nighy), the demon in charge of things on Earth.
All of this information is dumped on us in the first twenty minutes and the film never really gets more complex or involved beyond that. It’s a straightforward plot that seems to follow a checklist designed for brooding hero stories. Fate of humanity in the balance? Check. Protagonist who doesn’t want to be a hero? Check. Two opposing sides trying to win over the protagonist? Check. Normal person caught in the middle? Check.
I’d be willing to forgive the blandness of the script if it had witty or smart dialog to punch things up, but unfortunately, it is lacking in that area as well. Adam actually has the nerve to say “It ends tonight.” And he doesn’t even say it to the main villain! It can’t possibly “end tonight”, Adam, if you’re not killing the primary antagonist.
In movies where you have supernatural forces at work, the audience is usually given an avatar to help put things in perspective. In this movie we get Dr. Terra played by Yvonne Strahovski. She’s a scientist interested in learning how to reanimate corpses, but she doesn’t believe in fairytales like Frankenstein or demons and angels. So when she learns that all of those are real, you expect her to have an epic meltdown. Instead she shrugs it off and never questions anything, just like a good scientist would do.
And that is “I, Frankenstein” in a nut shell. It is a generic plot, wrapped in horrible dialog, and tied up in a pretty bow made of action sequences. Which, I will admit, it does have a decent bow. The action isn’t very memorable, but it does have enough dazzle and glitter to look appealing. Especially when the demons explode in giant fireballs or when the angels ascend to Heaven in glorious shafts of light.
And when things aren’t exploding in a captivating fashion, the film relies on its actors to keep things interesting. But, unlike Victor Frankenstein, even these actors aren’t capable of breathing life into a dead script. Bill Nighy stands out in the film simply because he’s Bill Nighy. The man brings a natural and devious charm to his performance that expands a two dimensional villain into one that exists in two and half.
I wish that I could say “I, Frankenstein” was everything I expected it to be. I thought it would be a loud and garish film that would be just dumb enough to be charming. Sadly, it’s devoid of any personality and exists as a product made by a Hollywood machine trying to make another one of “those movies.” It exists simply because someone willed it to life and, in that sense, perhaps this movie had more in common with the Mary Shelley tale than I had originally thought.
“I, Frankenstein” is currently in theaters.