When I saw the director Paul McGuigan was taking on a Victor Frankenstein film with a script written by Chronicle’s Max Landis, I was immediately excited. McGuigan, even with a slight stumble in his last movie Push (a film I enjoyed), had me with his first film The Acid House, an adaptation of what I thought was an unfilmable book from author Irvine Welsh. Following it up with the rise and fall crime film Gangster No. 1, the ensemble mystery Lucky Number Slevin (and, just for a little cherry on the sundae, he also did four episodes of one of my favorite BBC series, Sherlock), needless to say, he had me hooked.
The decisions that went into making Victor Frankenstein seemed sound enough. The titular mad scientist would be played by James McAvoy, our Professor Xavier of the time, who has seemingly moved out from under the weight of his heavier dramas into a sea of studio tentpole films and more audience grabbing fun in this part of his career. Alongside McAvoy in the Igor role we have Daniel Radcliffe, still trying to shed that “The Boy Who Lived” stigma but still reveling in that gothic period horror that worked incredibly well for him in The Woman in Black.
The story is narrated at the top by Daniel Radcliffe’s character, a hunchback clown in a touring circus who has a love for scientific medicine as well as the beautiful trapeze artist, Lorelai (Jessica Brown Findlay). After an equipment accident one day, Lorelai ends up plummeting from her swing, landing hard, and breaking her collar bone in the process. A doctor, Victor Frankenstein, rushes from the audience to assist the hunchback who is trying to figure out how to save his love, rapidly dying from her injuries. To Frankenstein’s amazement, this circus clown has an incredible knowledge of medicine and the two save Lorelai’s life.
Victor quickly takes it upon himself to liberate his new discovery from the circus in a daring escape that ends up getting one of the ringmaster’s men killed and the two new partners wanted for murder. Victor fixes his new friend’s hump, corrects his spinal curvature and gives him a new lease on life with a new name, Igor. The two then dedicate to Victor’s obsession, bringing life from death, the road we know leads to Frankenstein’s monster.
Unfortunately for Victor Frankenstein, the dulling down of the film into a PG-13 rating takes all the heat and the biting quality this film could have as it struggles futilely against this constraint. Everything is relatively bloodless and even our horror action shots have no real consequence to them. As a film derived from one of the most acclaimed monster stories in history, I would have zero issue with bringing a young child to this, as there’s nothing scary or even creepy about his one.
The film also struggles to find a foothold in any genre at all, leaving it to be a liquid mess of action set pieces, science fiction horror and comedic bits that leave you baffled given the film’s confusing tone. No amount of charisma from McAvoy, Radcliffe or Andrew Scoot playing the intrepid and religiously driven Inspector Turpin can save it from the half baked dud it is. Victor Frankenstein is not compelling in the least and has a restraint that makes The Hunger Games look edgy.
There also seems to be a bad trend in high budget films to have half assed CGI effects that we, the viewer, see through like a terrible magic trick. It’s incredibly insulting to think that the producers didn’t have enough fore or after thought to see these problems arise. It makes anyone’s enthusiasm for big Hollywood productions wane, and deservedly so. This is just lazy work.
As likeable as I find the cast and director (and I do immensely), Victor Frankenstein doesn’t even come close to the caliber of film we should see from them and even when it comes to the inevitable Frankenstein’s monster, it feels so cheapened and under done that you may regret even taking the journey to get there. This film is a definite misfire hopefully Universal can now capitalize on with their classic Hollywood monsters series. A low one out of five for Victor Frankenstein.