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John’s Horror Corner: Victor Frankenstein (2015), much more than a monster movie but far from a great movie.

December 5, 2015

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MY CALL: Critics may justly tear it apart for its screaming exposition and limp secondary characters, but ultimately I thought this was spectacular popcorn entertainment and the Ratcliffe-McAvoy chemistry is fantastic.  MOVIES LIKE Victor FrankensteinThe Bride (1985), Re-Animator (1985) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) all offer tellings of monstrous creations whereas Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) capture the mass action entertainment appeal and style.

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Director Paul McGuigan (Push, Lucky Number Slevin) and writer Max Landis (Chronicle) have both proven their ability to successfully weave stylistically unconventional stories.  So imagine how thrilled I was to see them teaming up to retell Mary Shelley’s harrowing tale of hubris, creation, obsession and playing God.  But whereas past approaches to the story orbit the notion of reanimating a stitch-work monster and the inevitably ensuing consequences, this story instead focuses more on the journey of “the man” than his monstrous creation and serves perhaps as more of a cautionary prequel to the more familiar story of Frankenstein’s monster.

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Rather than simply expounding on the life of Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy; X-Men: First Class), we have the story presented more from the perspective of a briefly hunchbacked Igor (Daniel Radcliffe; Horns, The Woman in Black).  These two share a brilliant, boisterous, aggressive on-screen bromance, which is truly the selling point of the movie.  Not the monster, not the creations, not the alchemy…but the exchanges they share; Victor’s monologues of rage and rhapsody, and Igor’s attempts at mitigating reason while getting caught up in the addictive synergy of scientific discovery.

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The characters have their emotional ups and downs.

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After seeing the trailer, this film probably already looked strangely familiar to everyone—and visually scintillating. It didn’t quite grasp the grandiose Sherlock Holmesian atmospheric scale…but it got hold of just enough of that splendor to please. You’ll even recognize the identical Holmes/Watson character dynamic as if Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr were meant to read the lines for Sherlock part 3. My opinion was admittedly guarded and dubious at best in the first 20 minutes, unsure of where this was all heading. But I found myself less critical and simply enjoying it more and more as each chapter unfolded before my eyes across impressive cityscapes and mechanized laboratories. This was much more than what some feared might have simply been just “a Frankenstein’s monster” movie with a bigger budget and cast.

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Partners in good times and bad.

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The downfall of the film is its coarseness. There is zero subtlety. Consider the phrase “if someone has to explain to you that they’re important, then they’re not.” Victor Frankenstein doesn‘t “show us” that he’s obsessed, narcissistic and socially disconnected. No, Victor himself screams it at us with frothy saliva rabidly flaring from his mouth. It’s certainly entertaining and commands attention—you’d literally have to be deaf not to be captivated—but it lacks the satisfaction earned by the careful revelation of nuance and story development; a fine trait completely lacking in this film.

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An interesting and unexpected strength of the film was the antagonist, Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott; Spectre, Sherlock), a deeply pious detective whose drive to halt Victor’s blasphemous experiments were more personal and morally driven than professional; a witch trial would be a good analogy.  But again, he “explains” everything about Victor’s God-offending actions not just to the audience, but with Victor’s face knowingly grinning back at him.  The Turpin character is performed well, but the writing and direction transmuted him (and all other aspects of the movie) into something too blatant to be considered “great.”  There isn’t a laugh, line or even facial expression that isn’t somehow loud.

This cacophonous film was a visual joy that features so-so writing rescued by the Ratcliffe-McAvoy chemistry.  Sadly other than Turpin (somewhat), Victor and Igor, all other characters are somewhat forced upon us and feel underwritten.  Turpin would have benefited from more development and subtlety; but then, NOTHING about this film is subtle.

Critics may justly tear it apart for its screaming exposition and limp secondary characters, but ultimately I thought this was spectacular entertainment.  I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to buy the Blu-Ray.

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