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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Victor Frankenstein movie review: monster mush

Victor Frankenstein yellow light

A riff on the Hollywood conventions of a story we know very well already, with little new to say. James McAvoy’s mad scientist is fun to watch, though.
I’m “biast” (pro): like James McAvoy a lot

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

You know this story,” mad-science sidekick Igor informs us more than once in voiceover. We do indeed… and Victor Frankenstein doesn’t have a lot new to offer us, so it’s sort of odd that the movie would go out of its way to remind us of that. We see everything here through the eyes of the hunchback Igor… who is, it transpires, neither a hunchback nor named Igor; and of course there was no hunchback nor an Igor nor even a lab assistant in Mary Shelley’s novel. This is more a riff on — or a frippery off — the Hollywood conventions of the story: visually it borrows much from James Whale’s classic 1931 movie mounting. But it also steals much from Guy Ritchie’s steampunk Sherlock Holmes (Shelley’s 1818 story obviously wasn’t set in Victorian London, either, though it’s tough to say what year this is set in). And it’s very much a product of today’s Hollywood: it’s plain that screenwriter Max Landis (American Ultra, Chronicle) imagined that the biggest updating Frankenstein demanded was the inclusion of a couple of action sequences, pulled off with rote exhaustion by director Paul McGuigan (Sherlock, Push).

Igor (Daniel Radcliffe: Trainwreck, The Woman in Black) is intellectually intrigued and challenged by his work but must confront increasing doubts about the wisdom of his employer’s quest to create life from dead meat; he is clearly meant to represent a moral middle ground between atheistic and materialistic Victor (James McAvoy: X-Men: Days of Future Past, Muppets Most Wanted) and the religiously infuriated cop, Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott: Spectre, Pride), determined to stop him because what he’s up to is “Satanic.” But the faster the film barrels toward its too-rushed conclusion — which barely even lets us glimpse the monster itself — the more muddled the morality play becomes, not least of which is because Igor is such a passive protagonist. It’s as if the movie doubts the value of its own nuanced perspective. If Igor is the something-new the movie is meant to be offering us, he needed more reason to actually be a part of the story than to merely voice the already obvious ethical debate at the heart of this story… which we also already know.

Still, Radcliffe and McAvoy are fun to watch in how committed they are to such absurd characters; McAvoy in particular finds a smart balance between humor, riveting intensity, and saliva-spewing raving mania that I wish the movie, which takes itself far too seriously, could have managed on the whole. (It could have gone for more gothic grotesqueries, too; the few that are here are especially disgusting but are indeed unique. Though that would likely have ruined the film’s teen-friendly rating.)

Never fear, though: Victor Frankenstein is not part of the Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe (this a Fox film), which means we can expect yet another Frankenstein movie in the next few years. Maybe someone will get a modern updating of this classic monster right then.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Victor Frankenstein for its representation of girls and women.

yellow light 2.5 stars

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Victor Frankenstein (2015)
US/Can release: Nov 25 2015
UK/Ire release: Dec 03 2015

MPAA: rated PG-13 for macabre images, violence and a sequence of destruction
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate violence, threat)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Hank Graham

    The ultimate re-do of “Frankenstein” would use the Frank Darabont script that never got filmed (and you should search it out, MaryAnn–Darabont got the subtext of the creature’s rankling against Frankenstein’s deep-seated belief that having created him, that also meant that the creature should obey him, without a will of his own; it’s almost as if a woman wrote the original story) and take the Bernie Wrightson illustrated version as the template to film it. In black-and-white.

    Next, don’t try to gross people out with the makeup as the modern audience has seen too much to be carried away by that. Instead, have the creature able to move like no human possibly could–like what Cameron did with the aliens in “Aliens,” or the attack of the assassination androids in “Black Magic: M-66” (which can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyUXx_RBdGg from 14:20-15:00 and 16:00-17:00).

    Probably never happen. *sigh*

    And you’re right, McAvoy is having a fine time in this film. Wish the script had been better worked out. I did keep waiting for a line for Jessica Findley Brown on the order of: “I’m here to ceremonially de-gay this movie.”

    You know, it’s possible I’ve thought about this more than I should.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    I’m really running out of patience for Max Landis’s “look at me I’m so edgy and original” schtick.

  • Could have been interesting here if they actually gayed-up the Victor-Igor relationship.

    This film has what you say the Darabont script has, except it’s Igor whom Victor presumes he now owns because he rescued the younger man. That could have been explored more, like, say, by the creature showing up earlier and then Victor finding that it *and* Igor start to turn against him…

  • I just can’t figure out why Landis keeps getting work. I mean, apart from Daddy’s name and connections. But that’s all Hollywood requires.

  • Michelle Kirkwood

    A woman (Mary Wollstonecraft) did write the original Frankenstein, BTW—interestingly enough. And,yeah, I only want to see this for McAvoy, because he can tear up a scene, and for Radcliffe—an interesting combo in itself.

  • Michelle Kirkwood

    “Could have been interesting here if they actually gayed-up the Victor-Igor relationship.”

    Yeah, it sure would have, seeing the original story been done to death. Might have helped boost it a little more at the box office, which it’s not doing so well at. Too bad, because it does look like a good film. based on the trailer.

  • This film bears little resemblance to the novel.

  • Um, in another thread, you just said this to someone else who made a decision about a movie based on the trailer:

    I wish people would actually see the film before making a judgement.

    But you obviously feel comfortable doing the same thing.

    I don’t mean to pick on you particularly, but this actually really matters. We *all* make decisions like this, based on the marketing of a film. It’s why critics are important, so that moviegoers have other sources of information upon which to base their decision on whether to see a movie or not. I hope you already realize this, since you’re reading and commenting on a film review site.

  • Hank Graham

    I liked “Chronicle,” but when I looked up what else he’s done on IMDB, I found that I didn’t know any of them except Mr. Right, which I watched only half-way through (on an airplane) and gave up on.

  • Jurgan

    You really didn’t catch the sarcasm in Hank’s quip about a woman writing the original story? Mary Shelley, by the way- Mary Wollstonecraft was her mother. (Unless you’re referring to her by her maiden name, but that’s not what she went by, and calling her Shelley distinguishes her from her also-famous mother).

  • Michelle Kirkwood

    Oops,you caught me,lol. And, yeah, you’re right about trailers making a big difference in whether one actually wants to see a film or not. I know I’ve always judged whether I’m going to see a film based on trailer. I also have been turned off seeing a film by some trailers, only to find out through reading a review of it that it might actually be worth watching. Anyway, it’s cool—I like this site anyways.

  • Michelle Kirkwood

    Oops,again—I should’ve said Mary W. Shelley, and yeah, I missed the sarcasm–my bad.

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