I’m not ordinarily a fan of re-imaginings of fairytale, historic events/figures or classic tales, but I was willing to give Victor Frankenstein a shot because it comes across as more like a fresh take using a different perspective as opposed to a complete butchering.
That perspective is Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), a former circus freak with a talent for science who ends up becoming the assistant of the titular mad scientist (Jamed McAvoy). The story is told through Igor’s eyes, and the focus of the film revolves around his relationship with his saviour and tormentor. The subplots include a love interest (Jessica Brown Findlay) and a police inspector (Andrew Scott) on their tail.
I’ve heard people say that the film, directed by Paul McGuigan (best known for TV work), tries to do to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein what Guy Ritchie did for Sherlock Holmes — a cooler, hipper, livelier version with a more postmodern feel. It’s an assessment I agree with, as Victor Frankenstein does have a similar look and vibe. The people and their surroundings all have that same grit and energy, and while Ritchie’s Holmes comes across as more action-adventure than mystery suspense thriller, the overall atmosphere of Victor Frankenstein is one that suggests more gothic fable than pure horror.
The result for me is a mixed bag. I’ll probably always love the Frankenstein story no matter how it is told, and I really bought into the relationship between the two central characters thanks to the stellar performances of Radcliffe and McAvoy. One is sympathetic and torn between loyalty and what he knows is wrong, while the other’s bipolar personality makes him a great anti-hero and villain. Though not quite Sherlock and Watson, I enjoyed their chemistry and shared their sense of wonder as they went about their morbid experiments.
On the other hand, despite the best of efforts, Victor Frankenstein never fully “comes to life”, so to speak. There were several nice surprises early on and some well-executed sequences along the way, though I ever felt any genuine fear from the horror nor thrills from the action. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it dull, but the experience definitely left me wanting more. It felt as though the start had set up a lot of enticing new possibilities, though as the story progressed towards the inevitable, everything starts veering in the direction of the predictable and mundane. The climax — and you probably have a good idea of what it is — as well as the ending can only be described as disappointing.
On the whole, Victor Frankenstein is a commendable effort but ultimately a forgettable affair amid the many Frankenstein adaptations to date. While there are elements that worked well, such as using Igor’s point of view and the chemistry between Radcliffe and McAvoy, there simply wasn’t enough imagination — especially in the second half — to breathe new life into the oft-told tale. Having said that, I’m still a sucker for Frankenstein and I enjoyed the movie for what it’s worth — solid entertainment with sufficient dashes of intrigue, drama, suspense, and the macabre. While it is by no means a great movie, it is far better than what its box office returns (US$34 million against a budget of US$40 million) and Rotten Tomatoes score (26%) suggests.
3 stars out of 5