“Discover the origin of the monster and his creation”
Directed by Paul McGuigan
Starring James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Findlay and Andrew Scott
In Victorian London, chance and an accidental fall bring a nameless hunchback (Radcliffe) and his surgical skills to the notice of eccentric, relentlessly driven medical student Victor Frankenstein (McAvoy), a man apparently incapable of speaking his own name, as every time he might do so the screen instead freezes and a title card flashes up.
Escaping from the totalitarian hell of the Victorian circus, Frankenstein takes the hunchback on as his assistant, gives him the name of his absentee roommate, Igor Straussman and enlists his aid in his project to create life (surprise!) The partnership is threatened by Igor’s ongoing relationship with Lorelai (Brown Findlay), the circus acrobat whose accident brought them together, and Frankenstein’s partnership with the ruthlessly ambitious classmate Finnegan (Freddie Fox). Lorelai sees their work as an abomination, while Finnegan seeks to become their patron with an eye to claiming the glory.
On top of this, the highly religious Inspector Turpin (Scott) of Scotland Yard is closing in on them, determined that their blasphemy must end.
What’s wrong with it?
Victor Frankenstein is a very silly film.
It is also a film that flat out ignores the book. Well… mostly. Frankenstein does suggest that they are going to make the human creature from scratch in some way, but given that their homonculus – Gordon – was made from scavenged animal parts and the eyes of the original Igor and that the actual construction is all offscreen, this is a bit confusing.
Apparently the capacitors in Frankenstein’s machine have precisely the same tolerance as the skin of his balloon lightning conductors, which erupt into flame exactly as the dials burst.
The laboratory is built over a huge pit of fire.
Turpin executes a rather meteoric character arc from a cool, Sherlockian detective to screaming zealot. Admittedly, he does lose a hand and should probably have considered a career as a Jedi.
It flirts with the darkness of the Victorian era without ever actually committing. Even when Lorelai is picked up as a ‘companion’ for a posh bloke a la Moulin Rouge it turns out he’s gay and wants a beard.
The creature is barely in the film and is basically murdered in its cradle.
What’s right with it?
It can not be argued that the film doesn’t know that it’s silly, from Victor’s freeze-frame title cards at the opening and closing of the film to the gleefully absurd final laboratory set up, it revels in its own silliness.
The film references just about every other version of the story ever, including Lorelai mispronouncing Victor’s name as ‘Fronckensteen’.
It’s also packed with good actors.
How bad is it really?
It’s ludicrously silly, but a lot of fun. McAvoy plays a good driven lunatic, and Igor has the earnest innocence and puppy-dog loyalty that Daniel Radcliffe was born to play. Scott’s Inspector Turpin is one of those characters who just seems to be surprised that the film isn’t about him, which is understandable given how reminiscent it is of Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes. Part of me likes to think that they exist in the same fictional universe.
Best bit (if such there is)?
As much as I mock it, the title card flashes are highly memorable.
Alternatively, Frankenstein insisting that the monster have a flat head because he’s drunk and thinks its a great idea at the time.
What’s up with…?
- The circus’s disregard for the law? They pursue Victor and the future Igor with lethal force amid a crowd of punters. Now, I’m not saying that Victorian circuses weren’t a little dodgy, but one would think they would be especially careful of propriety in a fine metropolis like London, since they are likely to be accused of any number of crimes even if they don’t commit any.
- Frankenfu? Victor is apparently some manner of martial artist, probably versed in baritsu, ‘the Japanese system of wrestling’.
- The homoerotic chiropractice? It’s just astonishingly gratuitous.
- The cameos? Seriously, Charles Dance shows up and is the sternly disapproving Twyin Frankenstein for about a minute, and Mark Gatiss has one rather bland line as ‘Dettweiler’, a technician not named in the film.
- English Frankenstein? In the 20th century, popular culture tended to move Frankenstein from Geneva to Transylvania. In the 21st, he’s become English; one of the Surrey Frankensteins, don’t you know? Transylvania I kind of get, but… it really isn’t a well-to-do Victorian English name like… Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
- The Lazarus Fork? In its attempts to explain the workings of the electrical revivification, the film automatically becomes even less scientifically sound than the original book.
- The oh-so posh and wealthy Finnegans? Surely an Irish family, however rich, would be an odd fixture in the upper reaches of the Victorian aristocracy. Okay, now I feel like I’m criticising the film for not being racist enough, and I’m not sure I’m okay with that.
Production values – It’s a marvellous, Gothic folly of a film, full of towers and tenements and a laboratory set up in a factory which seems to have been imported from Gotham. At one stage, Igor is on the roof of the building and I fully expected him to take off across the rooftops like a mad assassin-cum-Cockney chimney sweep. 4
Dialogue and performances – I have very few complaints in this regard. Perhaps Finnegan was a bit too posh and arrogant, but that was clearly what they were aiming at. 4
Plot and execution – There is, I feel, something wrong with any Frankenstein movie that has that little of the creature in it, but again, that was what they were going for. There were some odd little sidebars – Lorelai is really only there so there is at least one woman, and Tywin Frankenstein isn’t that relevant except to cast some small light on Victor’s character – but it’s pretty coherent. It does get a bit stodgy in the middle third, between the monkey resurrection and the denouement in a castle in Scotland. 8
Randomness – The Lazarus Fork! Tywin Frankenstein! Electric ape! Frankenfu! 8
Waste of potential – Well, given that this was lining up to be a stinkburger, the fact that it’s just dumb as rocks fun probably counts as a huge success. 5