Directed by: Paul McGuigan
Premise: A reinterpretation of Mary Shelley’s novel. A hunchback with a gift for medicine (Daniel Radcliffe) is rescued from a circus and cured of his condition by a medical student (James McAvoy) who is obsessed with restoring life to dead body parts.
What Works: Much like their title character, the filmmakers behind Victor Frankenstein collect various pieces of the collective Frankenstein mythos and stitch them together in an attempt to make something new. In addition to reinterpreting Mary Shelley’s novel, Victor Frankenstein also incorporates elements of the classic Universal Frankenstein movies as well as Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 version, the animated movie Igor, and Mel Brooks’ parody Young Frankenstein. The filmmakers mash up all of those references in an attempt to bring new life to an old story and Frankenstein fans will enjoy picking out all of the references to other versions. Victor Frankenstein also features some new material that’s done well such as the creation of an ape-like creature that prefigures the signature monster. Another remarkable aspect of this movie is the filmmakers’ willingness to delay the creation of the monster; in this version that doesn’t occur until the climax. But the key innovation of Victor Frankenstein is the focus on Igor, played by Daniel Radcliffe. He begins the movie as a hunchback who is imprisoned by a circus and forced to be an object of cruelty. Frankenstein rescues Igor from the circus, cures his deformity, and takes the former hunchback on as a laboratory assistant. The relationship between Igor and Frankenstein gives the movie a central interpersonal relationship and Victor Frankenstein is one of the few versions that captures an important detail of the original text; Frankenstein is a medical student, not yet a doctor, and he’s figuring this out as he goes along. The first half of Victor Frankenstein plays well. This portion emphasizes the cooperation of Igor and Frankenstein with James McAvoy playing the title character with zeal and there is a lot of icky body horror as the two researchers experiment with cadaverous body parts.
What Doesn’t: Victor Frankenstein gradually falls apart in its second half. The story includes several key subplots that don’t go anywhere. Igor falls in love with a trapeze artist played by Jessica Brown Findlay. Her part is woefully underwritten—she’s not really a character but just a stock Victorian female—and the love story is not convincing at all. The main antagonist of the movie is a police inspector played by Andrew Scott. He is utterly boring to watch partly because of Scott’s monotone performance but also because the inspector is a character without a purpose. He is a religious man who regards Frankenstein’s experiments as immoral and resolves to stop him. It’s unclear what we are supposed to make of this conflict. In traditional versions of this story, it falls to a religious character to warn Frankenstein that he is meddling with powers beyond his means. But in Victor Frankenstein the religious character is an ignorant zealot who threatens the scientists. That’s an interesting twist but it isn’t done well nor is it carried to any meaningful conclusion. It’s also indicative of a key weakness of this film; nothing is at stake and the conflicts are contrived. In any good story one event leads to the next and the conflict is heightened by the characters’ choices. Throughout Victor Frankenstein characters and concepts are introduced only to be abandoned. In the second half of the movie the plot points get more erratic and the characters are forced into situations for no reason. When Frankenstein finally creates his monster, the filmmakers rush through a series of twists that make no sense and in the end nothing is resolved.
Bottom Line: Victor Frankenstein is an ambitious project but it’s also a mess. There is some fun stuff here but the film is a jumble of underwritten characters and plot points that don’t make sense.
Episode: #572 (December 6, 2015)