Andrew Scott, Body parts, Daniel Radcliffe, Drama, Frankenstein, Horror, Igor, James McAvoy, Jessica Findlay Brown, Life and death, Literary adaptation, Mary Shelley, Monster, Paul McGuigan, Review, Science, Thriller, Victorian London
D: Paul McGuigan / 110m
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Findlay Brown, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox, Callum Turner, Daniel Mays, Charles Dance, Mark Gatiss
And so we have the latest variation on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, or as it perhaps should be known, Victor Frankenstein: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Release Date…
When the first trailer was released back in August 2015, prospective viewers could have been forgiven for thinking that Victor Frankenstein was going to be a bit of a romp, a version where comedy was at the forefront, the bromance between Victor and Igor was going to carry the movie, and there was going to be lots of flashy special effects (and a monster). When the second trailer was released, the humour had been dialled back and the movie appeared to be a more serious take on the legend (albeit with a bromance between Victor and Igor and lots of flashy special effects – and a monster). Some prospective viewers may have sighed with relief; after all, if you’re going to make a Frankenstein movie that’s got humour in it, how on earth are you going to top Young Frankenstein (1974)?
Thankfully, the makers seemed to have realised that the one-liners and the overt bromance weren’t as good an idea as they might have been, and the movie is a more serious proposition, but there are still echoes of both humour and bromance, mostly from McAvoy’s hyperactive performance and screenwriter Max Landis’s uncertainty as to what tone to take with the material. What we’re left with is a movie that tries to make two tortured individuals into an unofficial couple – they meet, they admire each other to bits, they fall out, they reunite and reconfirm their commitment to each other – while using Andrew Scott’s equally tortured, increasingly crazed police inspector as the religious foil for their scientific endeavours, and never quite reconciling the whole “benefit to mankind” approach that goads them on.
Victor is portrayed as a manic obsessive with a “history” that drives him on, and McAvoy, usually a sensitive actor, here can’t resist the urge to go for broke and just let rip. You half suspect that Victor’s taking drugs but it’s not that simple: it’s just his personality, and McAvoy parades around like he’s on display throughout, declaiming wildly and to little purpose. Radcliffe takes the quieter route, but his Igor is a dead weight in a movie that wants to celebrate Victor’s mania rather than his assistant’s good sense. As one half of a team that’s in danger of destroying itself and being forgotten by history, you can understand his willingness to spend more and more time with ex-circus aerialist Lorelei (Brown) (who only appears to like him when he’s not a hunchback or looking like Robert Smith from The Cure).
On the visual side, Victor Frankenstein owes a lot to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies, its late Victorian era setting full of background shots of building work going on and the streets teeming with the great and the downtrodden (and is further reinforced by the sudden appearance at the end of Gatiss as Victor’s new assistant). The climax is a suitably overwrought affair with plenty of explosions and destruction, and a monster that bears an unfortunate resemblance to both Dave Prowse’s incarnation in The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) and the Newborn from Alien: Resurrection (1997) (and why is it that mad scientists just can’t master putting a proper nose on their creation’s face?).
McGuigan doesn’t appear to have a firm grip on any of the movie, and there are moments of pure farce that undermine the intensity the makers are going for, such as Dance’s brief appearance as Victor’s father: there just to give Victor a slap and tell him he’s been a naughty boy. Still some humour then, but this time, unfortunate and unintentional, a bit like the movie as a whole.
Rating: 5/10 – another disappointing “adaptation” of Shelley’s tale, Victor Frankenstein is held back by weak plotting and a sense that there’s a different, perhaps better movie in there somewhere; McAvoy seems to be acting on his own recognisance, and the movie skips on providing any real horror from what Victor is bent on achieving, leaving it more anodyne than effective.