Review: Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy can’t prop up a soulless ‘Victor Frankenstein’
Is the big studio creative well that dry and desperate that it was an imperative to trot out another Frankenstein movie? Well, like it or not — uh, not — “Victor Frankenstein” arrives just in time to serve as this year’s cinematic Thanksgiving turkey.
This latest look at a man and his monster honors and dishonors Mary Shelley’s 1818 source novel and the umpteen big and small screen incarnations that have been sci-fi and horror mainstays for centuries. Screenwriter Max Landis (“Chronicle” screenplay author and filmmaker John’s son) and director Paul McGuigan (“Wicker Park”) take a kind of origin-story approach here. But it’s all presented in such a grandiose, panderingly hyped-up style it drowns out the movie’s better creative intentions.
In attempting to reboot the “Frankenstein” tale, the film is told through the eyes of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), the obsessed doctor’s trusty assistant, who reminds us in an opening voice-over that we “know this story.” But do we really?
Frankenstein, seeing the clown’s medical brilliance, helps him to brawl his way out of the soul-crushing circus, sets him up in his murky laboratory, then drains the young man’s giant back cyst that’s supposedly caused his lifelong deformity. A shower, a shave, respectable clothes and a new name make Igor grateful, and now the upright-standing ex-clown is good to go. That he looks as swoopy-haired adorable as Daniel Radcliffe doesn’t hurt, especially when an amazingly recovered Lorelei reenters the picture.
Meanwhile, the self-important, hyper-driven Frankenstein, with Igor’s capable help, is attempting to cheat death and reanimate life. Using animal-part discards from the local zoo — apparently heavy on the chimpanzee — they end up stitching together and electrifying what’s best described as a homunculus. Big surprise: Its revival does not end well.
But that only inspires Frankenstein to redouble his efforts and resuscitate life in a more human form. It’s a tall order, for sure, and Igor, who’s gotten cozy with Lorelei, resists his maniacal boss’ command to assist him on his God-like quest.
This push-pull, amped up by the intrusion of a haunted, moralistic Scotland Yard inspector (Andrew Scott) as well as the “support” of a Richie Rich-type (Freddie Fox) with a hidden agenda, sends Frankenstein into full-on crazed scientist mode.
It all culminates in a remote Scottish castle miraculously outfitted with a wild assortment of life-rejuvenating equipment for Dr. F. to bring his man-monster into being. Sparks fly — about a million of them — in a loud, unruly, thoroughly improbable lightning-fueled battle for survival that reunites a guilt-ridden Igor with his savior.
As for the final Frankenstein monster: It’s a soulless, violent hunk of who-knows-what missing the tragedy or pathos that could have given the film the depth and profundity it so desperately lacks.
For much of the movie’s running time, I wished I were watching Mel Brooks’ classic take on Shelley’s yarn, “Young Frankenstein.” At least that one was intentionally funny.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for macabre images, violence, sequence of destruction
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Playing: In general release
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