Starring: Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class), Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), Andrew Scott (Spectre), Freddie Fox (The Three Musketeers), Charles Dance (Game of Thrones)
Director: Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin)
Writer: Max Landis (Chroncicle)
Runtime: 1 hour 50 minutes
Release Date: 25 November (US), 3 December (UK)
The story of Frankenstein is one of the most often told in cinema since the beginning of the medium, with the oldest adaptation dating back to 1910. Whether fully faithful to the book or going completely off-base, the story of the mad doctor and his creation is a permanent mainstay of world culture and new interpretations of the material are cranked out almost constantly; such is the fate of popular intellectual property in the public domain. Considering such, Victor Frankenstein has an incredibly difficult task standing out from previous adaptations and, whilst it does have some flashes of brilliance, it isn’t quite enough to fully instil life into the film.
Though the film is named after the doctor himself, Victor Frankenstein is far more Igor’s story than Victor’s. Those expecting a faithful adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel won’t be satisfied, as this is one of those Frankenstein movies that takes the basic concept and then pretty much makes the rest of the story up. This is by no means a bad thing considering the most iconic film version of them all, James Whale’s 1931 classic starring Boris Karloff, is an incredibly loose adaptation itself and this frees Victor Frankenstein to take the story in new directions. However, other than the opening act that tells us Igor’s origin and his first meeting with Victor, from there the differences are far more present in the film’s tone and style rather than plot and ideas. Though the film sells itself as a reinterpretation of the classic story, there isn’t much subversion or new concepts introduced and the movie ends up going exactly where you expect it to go. It definitely feels like a hodgepodge of ideas taken from previous Frankenstein films (some are even directly referenced if you pay attention), and even if that’s the intention it doesn’t feel like a cohesive mash-up. The first act is strong as it builds up the relationship between Igor and Victor, but as the story progresses it gets gradually more and more ridiculous before ending in a rather pithy and disappointing climax and a light hook for a potential sequel.
What really holds Victor Frankenstein together are the central performances of Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy. Radcliffe takes the material perhaps a little too seriously in his role as Igor, but there is a lot of joy seeing this bedraggled cripple pull himself together and be the hero of the story. His early performance as the hunchbacked assistant, practically crawling on the floor due to his bulbous growth, is especially well done and he retains some ill posture even as he begins his road to recovery. McAvoy’s Victor Frankenstein definitely emphasises the ‘mad’ in ‘mad scientist’ as he bellows out his crazy ambitions in giddy excitement. It sometimes feels like McAvoy is just doing his best Robert Downey Jr impression, but his eccentric performance is constantly enjoyable and his chemistry with Radcliffe is buoyant and natural; I’d happily watch these two work together again no matter the film. However, the rest of the film’s performances aren’t so strong. Jessica Brown Findlay’s Lorelei is often referred to as a distraction from work by Victor, and she genuinely feels like that; a pointless subplot that doesn’t add much to the film other than act as Igor’s moral compass whenever Victor starts stepping over the line. Andrew Scott’s Inspector Turpin is a raving bible-thumper whose ineffectiveness as an officer of the law is almost as bad as his seething and turgid performance, Freddie Fox’s aristocratic villain is a pompous bucket of clichés, and what is it with Charles Dance popping up in reinterpretations of classic horror stories and then being completely wasted? Was Dracula Untold not enough or something?
Victor Frankenstein has a lot in common with Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films on several levels. From the heightened depiction of Victorian London, the constant use of slow motion in action scenes and the overall boisterous and cocky tone, you could almost picture them taking place in the same universe. In spite of this familiar feel, the film’s technical aspects are well executed with lively production design and an appropriately bombastic score from Craig Armstrong. The effects work, however, is a little iffy. Whilst the overall design of the creatures are suitably grisly and a lot of the practical work is excellent, the visual effects work feels a little unpolished and doesn’t blend well with the tangible elements.
Victor Frankenstein isn’t by no means a horrible experience, but it is a rather underwhelming one. The film starts out strong and the chemistry between Radcliffe and McAvoy is electric, but it ends up disappointing by resting on the laurels of past interpretations. There are some fun ideas within Victor Frankenstein and I wish they had the guts to go batsh*t insane, but instead we have a perfectly acceptable but not at all remarkable film that could have been so much more. Oh well, at least it’s better than I, Frankenstein.
FINAL VERDICT: 6/10