Director: Paul McGuigan
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Charles Dance
“They’ll remember the monster, not the man!”
Dr. Frankenstein’s monster has been done on film so many times, it’s hard to think of a new angle for the storyline. Max Landis’ decision to write the tale from the point of view of Frankenstein’s assistant is a novel one, but it unfortunately goes to waste. There’s a complete lack of unpredictability, and although the two lead actors give outstanding performances, the story is just not new and the best that Victor Frankenstein can be called is “interesting”.
On a visit to the circus, Victor Frankenstein (McAvoy) encounters an unnamed and hunchbacked clown (Radcliffe) with a thorough understanding of human anatomy and decides to set the man free to assist him with his unspecified research. While the pair are making their escape, they’re forced to kill a circus member in their way; something that the constable (Scott) later investigates. Once they’ve reached the safety of Victor’s home, Victor discovers that his companion is only a hunchback due to a cyst that’s gone eighteen years untreated, which he drains. After fitting the man with a back brace to fix his posture, Victor informs him that he will take on the identity of “Igor,” his absent roommate. All that Victor wants from Igor is that he help him in his grand mission of creating life out of nothing.
Mad scientists are fun characters, and that’s exactly what Victor is meant to be. Constantly rambling on about how he creates this and that, Victor is the utter definition of a man suited up with a god complex. James McAvoy does a brilliant job as the antihero, with a conniving grin on his face and a faraway look in his eyes that hints at the terrifying plans he has. He insures that not a single audience member will walk away forgetting about his insanity. Igor is himself a fascinating character as well, and not simply drawn out of thin air, as some might think. In the 1931 film Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s assistant is a hunchback named Fritz; a clear tip of the hat to the older film. In this version of the story, Igor constantly serves as an unsuccessful conscience to Frankenstein. He displays a sense of wonder at their accomplishments while still questioning the morality of them. Daniel Radcliffe has time and again proven that he is capable of playing the do-gooder, and this role is no exception. Ultimately Radcliffe and McAvoy make a good duo, but they don’t make up for the film’s incompetencies.
The film shows entirely too much gore for my taste, and while those who enjoy the sight of a devilish chimpanzee/zombie-looking thing with its eyes lifeless and vital organs visible may take pleasure in that – for me, too much. However, one thing that is admirable about the depiction Frankenstein’s initial creation is that its disgusting appearance serves as a metaphor for the nature of Frankenstein’s work. Another problem with the film is that the majority of it is spent with everyone, including Igor, repeatedly telling Frankenstein that he must stop trying to play god. This theme is emphasized to the point of exhaustion, and not only is this boring, but it offers no new insight on the message. Director Paul McGuigan does a beautiful job in building the principle up, especially by using Igor as a foil for the monster and showing the control that Frankenstein is so determined to exert over his creations, but in the end he does nothing with this and it falls flat.
In the end, the film feels like another testimony to Frankenstein’s insanity; one that will be lost in the crowd of its numerous predecessors, to say the least. McAvoy does do an admirable job as the infamous character, but that’s not enough to make the film worth seeing.
Bottom Line: Victor Frankenstein has no quality that will separate it from any other adaptation, with much build up that ends in little pay off.