Victor Frankenstein and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Paul McGuigan
Does anyone even remember when the last good Frankenstein movie was? Can Reanimator REALLY be the last one of these movies to get the formula right!? Well at least this movie isn’t trying so hard to make a faithful adaptation of the Mary Shelly story like Kenneth Branagh did, but is instead going after Young Frankenstein’s crown by practically making a spoof out of the whole thing. Geez, if making a good Frankenstein movie was a herculean task, then making a good Young Frankenstein movie must be a Sisyphean one. Still, the trailers really sold this as a fun throwback to old school horror schlock and it has two really talented actors who aren’t afraid to ham it up when appropriate. Will this be a fun re-imaging of one of cinema’s oldest stories, or is this yet another terrible interpretation of this story right up there with the abysmal I, Frankenstein? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), both working together to solve the mysteries of life and to hopefully reanimate a corpse for reasons of SCIENCE. After breaking Igor out of the circus and fixing his back, they become close friends and Igor’s intelligence about humanity anatomy and medicine (self-taught which makes it more impressive) becomes instrumental to Victor finally having a breakthrough with his research. Unfortunately, as Victor starts to escalate his experiments, an inspector at Scotland Yard (Andrew Scott) becomes more and more obsessed with stopping the mad man’s machinations before his schemes can come to fruition. Can Igor and Victor complete they’re greatest work before being shut down by The Man, or has Victor taken things too far? Will Igor continue to justify the mad doctor’s methods, or will he betray his best friend in hopes that he can be talked down from the brink of insanity? These two are REALLY close, aren’t they?
This movie gets it. Everything here is absolutely intentional, from the garish cinematography and set design, to the intentional and winking lines from Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy. This is the best camp movie I’ve seen in a long time and it SHOULD have be one of the revived Hammer films to sit alongside the Woman in Black, though I think this is WAY better than that one. The movie’s look and set up are most reminiscent of one of Hammer’s Frankenstein films which focused much more on the doctor’s own wickedness rather than the destructiveness of his creation. Not only that, but James McAvoy performance is much more in line with what Peter Cushing brought to the role, what with his level of obsession and complete callousness to everyone around him in pursuit of his work. Still, he manages to bring his own brand of manic energy to the movie (it’s not that far off form what he did in Filth) and it really gives this movie a lot of its power and humor.
Now if they had done this with a straight face or even the wrong kind of humor, this could have fallen completely flat, but the sincere love and affection the movie has for those sixties monster movies is what makes the knowing humor so strong. It’s not done with disdain or bewilderment for the points of reference here, nor does it carry a torch for this genre to the point that it becomes an obnoxious exercise in aggrandizement (*cough* Grindhouse *cough*). For the most part, this is the best combination of sincere tribute, smart satire, and strong film making that we want from these kinds of movies yet don’t get very often, at least to the degree that this film succeeds. The chemistry between James McAvoy as Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe as Igor is great as both of them are over the top, yet still manage to forge a sincere (if somewhat abusive) friendship that allows each character to be more than just the raving lunatic and fearful assistant respectively.
Speaking of Igor (which sadly isn’t pronounced eye-gor), Daniel Radcliffe is amazing in the part; completely willing to throw himself into the role which asks a lot of him at the beginning. He’s playing a hunchback and I can only imagine how difficult it was to portray a complex and reserved character will also having to do a very silly walk with a fake hump on his back for the first 20 or so minutes of the movie. Even after the hump gets removed (turns out it was just an abscess), he still can’t walk perfectly straight since he’s been crouched down for so long, and while I’m pretty sure they aren’t COMPLETELY consistent with it, you can almost always notice a slight ineptness to his steps. The movie starts off with telling us his story as a circus freak and the ways he’s learned to live with the constant abuse while learning medicine and anatomy to fill the time which goes along to making this one of the more compelling incarnations of this character (right up there with Marty Feldman and Bella Lugosi). And then the movie has a giant Zack Snyder slow-mo chase scene where Frankenstein and Igor are trying to escape the circus while clowns are chasing after them. I told you this movie’s great!!
On top of our two key players, we also have Andrew Scott who is quickly becoming one of the most sought after character actors out there and he proved his mettle with this movie and his over the top performance as Inspector Turpin. The quiet intensity and explosive outbursts that he’s known for are present and accounted for here, but there’s also a lot of fear and paranoia to round out the character whose religious convictions compel him to stop Frankenstein no matter what the cost. My only real problem with his character is that they do something to him at the end of the second act that references a character from a previous Frankenstein film but I don’t understand why because his character hardly reflects who that person was in the previous Frankenstein movie. He gets a fake hand which is an obvious reference to Inspector Krogh from Son of Frankenstein (Inspector Kemp if you’ve only seen Young Frankenstein), but despite that physical aspects and the fact that he’s an inspector he has no bearing or resemblance to Krogh. In this movie, Andrew Scott is overly zealous and gets obsessed with Frankenstein to the point that he even gets pulled off of the case and basically goes rouge. Krogh in Son of Frankenstein however was really the only calming influence in that movie and was the only reason a mob didn’t descend upon Frankenstein’s castle early on. He’s also the straight up hero of the movie so it seems odd that Andrew Scott, who at no point becomes sympathetic, is compared to him.
Since we’re on the topic, the third act is really with this movie starts to fall apart. There are a lot of weird decisions and changes to the standard Frankenstein mythos that don’t really work here. The goal of this movie was to make Frankenstein as sympathetic as possible while still making him a giant pick in the vain of other lovable bastards like House or Sherlock Holmes. Granted, that’s a bit of an oxymoron considering they’re the same damn person, but that’s the kind of Frankenstein they’re going for. Because of this, it feels the movie has to bend over backwards to keep him a chaotic neutral(ish) rather than out and out evil, and that means there are some serious awkward moments. They throw a villain into this (Andrew Scott is an antagonist but not evil) who’ bankrolling Frankenstein’s operation and gets no real characterization outside of being a rich douche bag. His purpose is to absorb all the negative feelings we may have for what Frankenstein is trying to accomplish, but I don’t think they give him enough to do here to be other than to be more evil than Frankenstein. It just feels a bit safe to have someone else be the bad guy when the gutsier move would have been to make Frankenstein the only one doing bad things while still giving the audience reasons to like him. This character just makes things a lot less gray than it should be and therefore makes the movie a little bit less interesting.
Also, they have McAvoy reject his creation. That makes NO sense considering what we saw of him up to this point and how he’s reacted to his smaller creations throughout the movie. It’s once again another step they’re taking to make this Frankenstein more heroic than he should be. Sure, we get a pretty cool action scene where he and Igor have to stab the monster like thirty times in slow motion (in the rain and with lightening flashing of course), but it feels inconsistent and took me out of the movie. They TRY to justify this at the very end with a last second reveal about the creature composition, but that feels really tacked on and I honestly didn’t even realize that there was something wrong with the monster in the first place.
The only other thing worth bringing up is Jessica Findlay as Igor’s love interest (Lorelei) who is fine I guess, but really doesn’t have anything to do in this. She COULD considering she was a trapeze artist at the beginning of the movie (and the last action scene could have worked those skills into it), but the movie seems to have forgotten that and just has her be disapproving every once in a while and then get left behind when interesting stuff started to happen.
It has its flaws here and there, but the final product is ultimately charming enough and so well executed that you can overlook them and just enjoys it for the wacky madness that it is. I don’t think a sequel would work out very well, but I definitely want to see this director try to tackle some more classic monster franchises to see what spin he can put on those. Hell, even if he can’t make another one as good as this, I’d wager it’ll still be better than whatever Universal is cooking up with its shared monster universe thing. Either way, this is a great creature feature and is probably the best horror movie I’ve seen this year in its twisted and lighthearted way. Plus, McAvoy and Radcliffe together are just adorable, aren’t they?
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