We all know the story of Frankenstein and his monster, as Igor will state on more than one occasion. So why not see it again!? Victor Frankenstein is here to dive deeper into an early section of the monster’s creation, focusing on the men who cried, “It’s alive!”
Necessary? Shockingly no. Or maybe not so shocking considering the growing desire for original stories in film, but I needed to figure out a way to work in a word that will put me on par with everyone using “electrifying” in their reviews. I may have seen a TV spot for the movie earlier… But that’s beside the point!
As with the reintroduction to another classic character in recent years, Victor Frankenstein hopes to send a jolt (high fives self) through the story of a mad scientist by making him more of an action star. He saves damsels in distress! He jumps through fire! He is involved in shootings! James McAvoy is charismatic as F! Basically the movie is attempting, and mostly failing, to be Sherlock Holmes with its jumble of eccentricities, internal organs, and a strong desire to be exciting.
The thing is, a movie named Victor Frankenstein isn’t even about Frankenstein, at least not at first. You see, underneath Frankenstein charm there is a huge jerk with narcissistic tendencies that keep his domineering presence from being all that sympathetic. But the movie doesn’t want to be an exploration of this dark side of the character, so to combat this early on focus tilts towards the sidekick of this classic tale. The movie opens up on Igor being abused as something lower than a sideshow freak at the circus, with a heart as big as the hunch on his back. Insert the hero who saves this sad, lowly creature from his Hell, gives him a new life and a straighter stature and sure enough Frankenstein has bought himself about 30 minutes of audience forgiveness as the true nature of the man slowly expresses itself.
Had the film chosen to be something darker, something more dramatic, exploring this relationship could have been something worth seeing, a meaningful angle to the story that fully embraces the monster behind the monster that Daniel Radcliffe speaks of during an early voiceover. But as it stands, Victor Frankenstein just doesn’t work as it fights to keep the tone it sets out to mimic early on. To keep this excitement levels up, distraction after unnecessary distraction is thrown in the way of the heart of the partnership in the form of a love story for Igor, as well as a roster of villains whose numbers rival recent superhero films. As if the religious zealot of an inspector who forces himself into the villain role (and I swear had an eye patch for a brief second) isn’t enough, there’s also a sneaky and awkwardly leering fellow who wants to take advantage of it all. But that’s still not enough, so how about an abusive father? After all, the title character in movies like these has to come out on the right side of things in the end, so after all that he’s done a sudden reveal of motivation and sympathetic backstory will make the grab for sequels at the end far more desirable.
Going in, I was all ready for Victor Frankenstein to be a mediocre, though possible surprisingly enjoyable, knockoff of Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately it just doesn’t quite get it right. So my recommendation for all those interested in it is to rewatch Robert Downey Jr. do his detective thing, and then jump over to Penny Dreadful for an interesting and dark representation of Frankenstein that is most definitely worth your time.