Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Stuart Beattie
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Aden Young, Miranda Otto, Yvonne Strahovski, Jai Courtney.
Mary Shelley would probably be spinning in her grave if she could see what filmmaker Stuart Beattie and graphic novelist Kevin Grevioux have done to her most famous creation in this dreadful, special effects heavy fantasy. Beattie and Grevioux have reimagined Shelley’s misunderstood monster from literature as an action hero battling demons in a battle to save mankind from destruction.
A brief backstory tells us that Frankenstein’s monster (played by a stoic but miscast Aaron Eckhart) has been wandering the world for 200 years following the death of his creator, the mad scientist Victor Frankenstein (Aden Young). While burying Frankenstein in 1795 the monster first encounters the ongoing war being fought between the fiendish demons. Frankenstein’s monster is informed of this ongoing struggle by the compassionate Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto), who also christens him Adam, in an obviously Biblical reference. At first, Adam wants nothing to do with the struggle. But he spends the next 200 years wandering the globe, an outcast trying to find his place in a harsh world, and destroying demons along the way.
Whenever demons are “descended”, or killed, they are taken with a blazing fire ball; whenever the gargoyles are “ascended” or killed, they are taken skyward in a beam of bright white light.
Cut to the modern era, and Adam is once again drawn into the struggle when he is targeted by Naberius, the prince of darkness, who is trying to create an army of the undead to destroy the gargoyles and humanity. Dr Terra Wade (Yvonne Strahovski, from tv series Chuck, etc) has been doing experiments on reanimating, trying to bring dead tissue back to life, under the auspices of her wealthy benefactor Wessex (Bill Nighy, slumming it), who has his own agenda. Wessex is actually Naberius in human form. He sends his minions to try and capture Adam, who carries with him Frankenstein’s journal that is the key to unlocking the process of reanimation. Adam joins forced with the gargoyles, and, armed with some fearsome weaponry, takes the fight to them.
This dire fantasy about the battle between good and evil does for the legend of Frankenstein’s monster what Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter did for the legacy of the 16th President. The film is characterised by some thin, one-dimensional characterisation and some lame dialogue delivered woodenly by a surprisingly strong cast. Much of the dialogue was greeted by howls of derisive laughter from the audience. Many of the character names here seem inspired by the Bible, which also gives the material some deeper religious significance.
Eckhart has appeared in some strong dramas (Thank You For Smoking, etc), but here he seems awkward and uncomfortable in a more physical role. Eckhart has a rather grim countenance throughout, with some makeup to create his disfigured and scarred face, but he also sports a rather buffed physique that belies a character supposedly created from body parts. He is also far more articulate than one usually expects from Frankenstein’s monster, although much of his dialogue is little more than grunts and growls.
Nighy’s usual sardonic style is wasted in a fairly thankless and cliched role; but he obviously enjoyed the opportunity to travel down under for a few days to shoot his scenes. Stahovski is largely stuck in a cliched and archetypal role as the damsel in distress, who needs to be rescued by Adam, the outcast looking for redemption. Jai Courtney, from A Good Day To Die Hard, etc, is also lumbered with a fairly thankless physical role as Gideon, the chief warrior of the gargoyles.
There are lots of CGI effects that bring the gargoyles to life, but for the most part the visual effects seem second rate, and more like something from a video game. Greviouz has a degree in microbiology which explains his interest in genetics and science and the possibilities of reanimation. Grevioux also previously wrote the script for Underworld with director Len Wiseman, which told of a secret and ongoing war between the vampires and the werewolves, and so its not surprising that I, Frankenstein seems derivative and has a number of similarities in both look and tone.
Beattie, who has written films like the original Pirates Of The Caribbean and the thriller Collateral for Michael Mann, made his directorial debut with his adaptation of the popular young adult novel Tomorrow When The War Began, and proved himself a dab hand at staging rousing action scenes. But here the fight scenes are shot in that kind of kinetic, rapid editing and fast camera movements that render them almost unwatchable and dull. When will modern directors eschew that chaotic style of filming action scenes for something a little more classical, lean and coherent?
Set in a bleak, dystopian future world, this ludicrous premise takes itself far too seriously, when a lighter tongue-in-cheek approach may have been more suited to the material. The film was shot on location around Melbourne, although it must be said that the city has never looked so bleak, dark, grimy and disturbingly Gothic before, thanks mainly to the grey and desolate production design of Michelle McGahey (Mission: Impossible II, The Matrix, etc). The only setting that looks bright and modern is the interior of Ward’s laboratory. And locals will be surprised to find that the National Gallery of Victoria, with its water wall, doubles as a railway station here. Aussie cinematographer Ross Emery (Dark City, The Matrix, etc) gives the film its suitably grim and bleak visual style.
The Frankenstein story here is a far cry from the familiar character that has been played on screen many times before, most famously by Boris Karloff. But there have been many versions of the Frankenstein story on screen, from the James Whale classics from the 1930s through to Andy Warhol’s camp Flesh For Frankenstein to Kenneth Branagh’s take on the tale starring Robert De Niro as the fabled re-animated monster.
I, Frankenstein first appeared in the graphic novel from Dark Storm comics, and only fans of the original comic book will find anything to enjoy here. Anyone else will probably be unimpressed by this dull and incoherent mix of fantasy and action. But any hopes that the producers may have had of turning I, Frankenstein into a lucrative franchise (the ending hints at a possible sequel) are quickly dashed by this bland, messy and disappointing film.