Victor Frankenstein review: A bad pun come to life
James McAvoy has great hair.
I currently have weird, kind of long hair with bangs that go down to about my nose. My hair also kind of juts out in bizarre angles like I’m constantly being mildly electrocuted, but that McAvoy, that’s some hair.
Is it a wig? He had to shave his head for his role as Professor Xavier, so maybe he’s wearing a wig?
These are the thoughts that went through my head as I watched the supposedly “explosive” climax of Victor Frankenstein. Although I can’t guarantee this, that probably wasn’t what the filmmakers were going for.
I don’t like puns, and Victor Frankenstein is a living pun. Like the monster that Mary Shelley describes in her 1818 novel, this film is made up a bits and pieces of other films all thrown together. The results are, unsurprisingly, a disjointed mess.
It starts out well enough. Actually, that’s not entirely true. It starts out with a stupid “monster with a heart of gold” trope. The film compounds that with a prejudicial group of asshats that treat the said golden hearted monster (Daniel Radcliffe) – who also happens to be a genius physician that takes care of them all – like crap, because reasons. Thankfully, a young Victor Frankenstein (McAvoy) happens along and sees the very un-monster-like monster’s potential.
Frankenstein rescues him and gives him a new life where the former monster can develop his sizable intelligence. He even gives the monster a name: Igor.
Despite the goofy, trope-laden start, the film starts off well enough. Igor proves his worth and begins to assist Victor in his research into the nature of life and death – as well as a mysterious project Igor isn’t privy too. It’s stylishly shot, with cuts that would make Guy Ritchie proud. There’s also a fair amount of humor, as well as an interesting look at a young man coming into his own.
During this phase of the movie, Igor begins to romance the beautiful Lorelai (Jessica Brown Findlay), who he conveniently knows from his past. There is a 10 second explanation as to how she is now suddenly in the same new social spectrum that Igor suddenly finds himself in, then it’s pretty much just forgotten and accepted by everyone.
If you can overlook the massive plot holes, Victor Frankenstein starts out well enough. Ish. Then another movie is more or less stitched onto the first, and it goes in a very different direction. The tone radically shifts.
Throughout Igor’s growth, the dogged Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott) is after the pair for… reasons. It’s loosely explained thanks to a conveniently stupid piece of evidence Victor leaves behind, but the investigation is a constant thread throughout the film. It’s also one of the stupidest and least developed points of the film. And yet it won’t go away.
Scott – who is apparently and unfortunately typecast as a disturbed person in everything he’s in – does his best with this role, but the script fails him. And the pacing. And the direction. The Inspector plays a central role in the film, but it is more or less to show up when the plot stalls, and give it a kick in the ass.
In the Fallout game series, there is a character known as the “Mysterious Stranger.” The Stranger shows up randomly to help you, kills enemies, then pisses off back to wherever he came from. The Inspector is kind of like that, he just doesn’t help the protagonists. Turpin shows up, shoots the plot, then fades back into obscurity.
The story then changes gear once again, as a weird aristocrat decides to support Victor in his experiments. But he has a nefarious plot! Or something, it’s not really clear.
Then it all comes to a head and just kind of ends.
The film hits several marks. It’s a buddy film, it’s a coming of age story. It’s a story of unchecked science, and a story of untempered religion. It’s also a story of an evil plot. Kind of.
And then at the end, it suddenly tries to circle back around to the slick way it started, with quick cuts and animated graphics. It’s like the film forgot it could do that.
Any one of Victor Frankenstein’s themes may have worked, but together they feel like a bizarre episodic mashup, with a different director showing up, taking over one segment of the movie, then disappearing. It has moments of humor, then gore, then romance, then philosophy, and they all feel like they are competing more than they are complimenting each other.
No one seems to know what this movie is, so they tried to make it everything.
And what a waste of an incredible cast. They all try their best, bless their confused little hearts. But hey, James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe gotta eat.
Oh, and Charles Dance appears for about two minutes, yells at Victor, then is never seen from or mentioned again. Charles goddamn Dance.
Behind the scenes, this film is done exceptionally well. The casting is great, the sets are stunning, and the movie offers one of the best looks at Victorian London ever seen on film. It’s just the script and the direction from Paul McGuigan that fail it. And the tone. And the theme. It fails, and does so epically.
Victor Frankenstein review conclusion
Leading up to Victor Frankenstein, I couldn’t figure out why there wasn’t more promotion for this film. After seeing it, I think the marketing department was probably just confused.
What the hell happened with this movie? It has a killer cast and a great look, but it’s just a mess. From the story to the tone, Victor Frankenstein is a patchwork mess. Perhaps in some brilliant way, the film is deliberately designed as an homage to the monster that Frankenstein creates out of multiple bodies. If so, well played. Stupid, but well played.
But hey, I now have an inspiration for my hair, so something good came out of this, I guess.
(Victor Frankenstein is rated PG-13, with a running time of 110 minutes)