This review is also up at Channel 24
What it's about
The latest retelling of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, tells the very familiar story from the point of view of Victor Frankenstein's lowly assistant, Igor: in this version a nameless circus hunchback with a brilliant medical mind who is freed by Frankenstein and, after taking the name of the good doctor's absent roommate, starts to assist him in his mission to create life out of death.
What we thought
For all that Victor Frankenstein tries to make itself out to be a fresh new take on the extremely well worn story of Frankenstein and his “Modern Prometheus”, the main problem with the film is precisely that it feels tired and stale more than anything else.
There are some spirited and enjoyable performances, most notably Daniel Radcliffe as Igor and James McAvoy as the titular character but even if everything is put together with competence by director Paul McGuigan, there's a decided lack of inspiration in both McGuinan's workmanlike direction that attempts to channel Sherlock-Holmes-era Guy Richie but ends up feeling perfunctory instead and, even more so, in Max Landis' lackluster script. And, though it's nowhere near the irredeemable abortion that many a critic have painted it to be, the fact that Victor Frankenstein seems to largely miss the point of the original story and, worse, its emotional core, dooms the whole thing to be nothing more than a noble failure.
Admittedly, it doesn't completely overlook the major theme of science vs. religion vs. human responsibility that was such a major concern back when Shelly originally wrote the novel, but it doesn't handle it with quite the same insight of better Frankenstein tellings and it certainly doesn't hold up against the way Jurassic Park – effectively, our generation's Modern Prometheus myth (or, to crib from a particularly memorable episode of the X-Files, our Post-Modern Prometheus) – deals with the similar conundrum of (to badly paraphrase) “you were so busy trying to see if you could, that you never stopped to ask yourself whether you should”. You don't have to turn to Shelly to see this done better, in other words, you just have to turn to Spielberg.
Regardless, the true heart of the Frankenstein story has always been the relationship between Frankenstein and his Monster and it's here that Victor Frankenstein truly drops the ball. Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks' spectacular spoof, is the textbook example of how to twist the Frankenstein narrative (partly, in fact, through an emphasis on Marty Feldman's immortal take on Igor) in new and unexpected directions, while keeping the heart of the story intact – which is something that this current retooling is clearly aiming for,(albeit without the jokes) but ultimately fails spectacularly to actually do.
Victor Frankenstein suffers tremendously not only by not featuring the Monster until the final few minutes of the film, but the way it's handled when it finally does show up barely even ranks as an afterthought. This final act of the film may throw everything at the screen in an increasingly bombastic and tiresome “climax” but without its heart (or, in this case, twin-hearts) in place, it doesn't just feel empty, it ultimately leaves a bad taste in the mouth that all but completely annihilates any good will that the majority of the rest of the film tries to build up.
Incidentally, if you're wondering why a film that is mostly about Igor would name itself after the character with whom we're all way more familiar, presumably it's because there's already an animated film out there called Igor that, not so coincidentally, also places its focus on the assistant, rather than the master. But hey, what's yet another reference in the face of something this derivative?