Somewhere, Mary Shelley is rolling in her grave. Her fantastic novel, which paved the way for the birth of science fiction, has been pawned off to one of the oddest, most uninspired fantasy films I have seen in a very long time. With explosions, collapsing buildings, and flying stone monsters, I, Frankenstein should have had no problem generating an interesting, engaging plot. However, the moment the characters start explaining things to each other, you realise that this film is going to be ridiculous.
After the world’s shortest and most inaccurate summary of Frankenstein, the plot begins with the monster, Adam (Aaron Eckhart), getting attacked by demons. He is saved by gargoyles (basically angels who turn into stone monsters), who take him to the gargoyle queen, Leonore (Miranda Otto). They explain to him that demons and gargoyles have secretly been at war for centuries, though over what is anybody’s guess really. Adam is given special weapons, and then wanders around for a few centuries killing the demons who come after him. Meanwhile, the demon-prince, Naberius (Bill Nighy) is trying to replicate the success of Frankenstein, with the help of scientist Terra Wade (Yvonne Strahovski). He plans to bring his collection of corpses back to life with demon souls, so that they can destroy the gargoyles and enslave the humans. However, he can’t do this without studying Adam, hence the demons going after him. The rest is an hour of pretty cool fights, romantic back-stitching scenes, and Aaron Eckhart walking around with epic music.
What confused me most about this film was Frankenstein’s monster himself, actually. Of all the book characters to randomly attach this fantastical-nonsense plot to, why him? The plot itself could have been decent with more development and a lot more subtlety, so why bother bringing Frankenstein into it at all? His presence limited the entire film, making it more like a Van Helsing knock-off than anything epic and original. The best parts of the film were the scenes he wasn’t actually in. I would have much rather seen more gargoyle vs demon battles than Adam strutting down an alley with a deep voice-over.
The only redeeming feature of the film were the visual effects. Every time a demon is killed, they turn into a ball of fire that darts around and then plummets into the ground. Likewise, every time a gargoyle is killed, they turn into a blue light that sails into the sky. On a large scale, this was fantastic to watch. However, the moments where this did take place were few and hasty, as if they were just filler for the real plot. If only they’d done it the other way around. While the gargoyles were cleverly done, particularly in their transformations from stone to human, the demons looked like people in rejected Doctor Who masks. Frankenstein’s so-called ‘monster’ was not convincing either. He looked more like someone who had been in a bad accident, as opposed to a creature stitched together from six different corpses. For future reference: a convincing monster is more important than having a topless scene.
In its haste to explain every detail of the gargoyle-demon war, the film also fails to give us likable characters. Everyone speaks in a dull monotone. The only character who was vaguely interesting was Bill Nighy’s demon prince. It’s always fun seeing him play the bad guy. Aaron Eckhart’s normally brilliant acting was stunted by the brooding, conflicted monster he was meant to play. Although his intense stares were very believable.
At this time of year, there are no other films on at the cinema like I, Frankenstein. If you want to watch an epic, good vs evil, fantasy film, then this is as close as you will get right now. As long as you don’t take it too seriously, or expect it to honor the original story of Frankenstein, then you should be able to watch it without a problem. Otherwise, you’re in for one confusing ride.
I, Frankenstein (2014), directed by Stuart Beattie, is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate, Certificate 12A.