Film Review: I, Frankenstein

I frDirected by Stuart Beattie

Starring Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy & Miranda Otto

I, Frankenstein is the latest in an amusing Hollywood trend of trying to rebrand ancient fictional characters as action heroes, whether they naturally lend themselves to ‘kicking ass’ or not. First it was Sherlock Holmes, quickly followed by Snow White and then Hansel and Gretel, and now it is the turn of Frankenstein’s Monster. In a story that begins at the conclusion of Mary Shelley’s seminal novel, we see Frankenstein immediately attacked by demons, before being rescued by shape-shifting Gargoyles. Welcome to I, Frankenstein.

The plot is fairly standard Angels vs Demons fare, with Writer/Director Stuart Beattie swapping out the angels for Gargoyles, just to mix things up. Don’t worry, you barely notice. They still have wings and intermittently glow with white light. Frankenstein’s Monster (Eckhart), or ‘Adam’ as he is dubbed here, finds himself caught in the middle between the forces of light and dark and a plan by demon Prince Naberius (Nighy), that might involve him somewhat. Who knows?

In interest of fairness, there is a  B movie earnestness about I, Frankenstein, a sincerity about its badness which I found mildly refreshing, as I can imagine a much worse version of this movie that constantly takes cheap meta jokes pointing out how ridiculous it is at all times, and to his credit Beattie doesn’t take the route. He tried (and failed) to make a straight-faced fantasy blockbuster here, and while perhaps it could have done with slightly more humour to avoid the dour fate the audience ends up suffering, better this than a film so self-deprecating you find yourself asking why the film-makers made it in the first place.

Aaron Eckhart meanwhile, seems to be in the Ben Affleck class of leading man, where his square-jawed, all-American presence is so on-the-nose it only really works when being subverted, like in The Dark Knight or In The Company of Men. When it’s not you get the Ben Affleck as Daredevil situation, a performance so obvious it manifests completely without dimension or credibility, amplified by how hard the lead is trying. And unfortunately, that’s sort of what happens here. Eckhart snarls and lowers the octave of his voice, but all feels inescapably fake, and the only chance a film like this ever really had was with a strong leading performance.

There’s not much relief provided by the supporting cast either, with the likes of Miranda Otto and Jai Courtney stuck in exposition-spouting cardboard cutouts, Chuck’s Yvonne Strahovski playing a character straight out of the Christmas Jones’ handbook of impossibly beautiful scientific geniuses, in that ultimately her being intelligent is a redundancy and she just becomes a helpless damsel in distress for the hero to save. The only signs of life (no pun intended) comes from Bill Nighy’s villain, in a performance he’s essentially recycling from the Underworld movies.

To be honest though, it’s a film that struggles so hard to justify its existence that it can never really get going in the first place. The problem with this particular trend is that it’s trying to build airheaded, popcorn movies around seminal, richly drawn stories, which is essentially like trying to turn gourmet into a microwaveable meal. The only real success of I, Frankenstein’s kind so far is Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, perhaps because Holmes isn’t associated with a single narrative in particular so it’s easier to rebrand him. Frankenstein’s monster, on the other hand, is a character rooted in one of the best horror stories ever written, one rooted in tragedy and despair, and beyond that he’s not even the hero of that story, he’s a metaphor, a cautionary tale. I’m not firmly against re-appropriating characters, but as you change their scenery you have to maintain a semblance of their purpose, of their soul. The Monster in this film is unidentifiable; he’s the action hero of a thousand other movies with a couple of facial scars.

The best I can say about this movie is that at least it’s fairly honourable about its badness, choosing to stand by its suck rather than trying to quietly sneak into the audience and join in the laughter, the way Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters did. Beyond that though, I’ve got nothing and Stuart Beattie continues to stink up movies after somehow bargaining a career as a director out of his heavily rewritten Collateral script, I Frankenstein coming after the equally terrible Tomorrow, When The War Began. This should probably be it for him.


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