Dr. Frankenstein’s efforts to create life out of mismatched pieces ended in disaster. Efforts by director Paul McGuigan to create the movie “Victor Frankenstein” out of mismatched pieces results in a similar catastrophe.
The latest big-screen adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel looks at the familiar story through the eyes of Frankenstein’s assistant, Igor (Daniel Radcliffe). Why the movie is named for the monster maker and not his loyal assistant is just the first of a long line of miscues.
Igor has grown up in a circus where the hunchback has been the victim of constant inhuman treatment. Despite being treated with less respect than a mongrel dog, Igor has somehow educated himself to the point where he’s the circus doctor. He’s quite articulate and socially adept for someone who was locked in a cage.
When Lorelei(Jessica Brown Findlay), an aerialist with whom Igor is smitten, falls, he fixes her broken collarbone using only a pocket watch. Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) sees the potential in the hunchback and helps Igor escape.
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In a transformation that is so absurd that it fringes on farce, Frankenstein cures Igor of his hunchback in a matter of minutes. A bath and haircut later and the social leper Igor has transformed himself into a man fit for high society.
Frankenstein has a grand plan to create life out of death, but it’s Igor who has the skill and knowledge – somehow garnered through mucking stalls and being beaten by fellow circus people – to make the experiment work.
As if the Igor storyline wasn’t absurd enough, screenwriter Max Landis takes the life out of the rest of Shelley’s classic story by the transformation of Frankenstein. The point of the original story was that it wasn’t the creature Frankenstein created who was the real monster. Landis opts to make Frankenstein a sympathetic character, so all of the philosophical elements about good and evil are lost.
To create some sort of tension, the creature brought to life by Frankenstein must by default be the villain. That guts the original intent and leaves this latest version nothing more than a B-grade horror movie.
McGuigan has created a beautiful look, including a massive laboratory for Frankenstein. But, because the story is so lifeless, having all of the gorgeous sets is like putting a tuxedo on a corpse. It looks good but is still DOA.
McAvoy tries to breathe life into the story, but he never creates one distinct approach. There are moments when Frankenstein looks like a mad man; other times he is a heartbroken soul. The lack of consistency leaves the character without direction.
The idea of looking at the story from Igor’s point of view could have worked had Landis not taken so many shortcuts. Having Igor be a brilliant doctor with no training takes a massive leap of faith. Then the quick physical transformation extends the leap beyond reason.
What pulls the plug on the film is Radcliffe. He never sells the character as either an abused circus worker or medical genius. And, the romantic angle fails miserably because Radcliffe looks so young that Findlay looks like she’s old enough to be his mother. In a film with a monster stitched together from human parts, the love story is the creepiest part.
“Victor Frankenstein” lumbers to its predictable end, carried by a bad script, off-the-mark casting and few signs of life. Sadly, this film is not alive.
Cast: James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Findlay
Director: Paul McGuigan
Rated PG-13 (macabre images, violence)
Opened: Wednesday, Nov. 25