At The Picture Show
Frankenstein, demon hunter
Shelley's Monster gets a movie-star makeover in the half-hearted and dull 'I, Frankenstein'
Director: Stuart Beattie
Screenplay: Stuart Beattie, based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto, Jai Courtney, Socratis Otto and Mahesh Jadu
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 32 minutes
January 24, 2014
(out of four)
I, Frankenstein is one of those movies where the setting is completely incidental. In this case, however, I don't think the filmmakers are aware of that face. I think they intended modern-day London to be a major character in the film, except they turned out to be very bad at their jobs. That's the theory.
This is the only way I can explain the fact that, halfway through the movie, a massive battle unfurls between gargoyles and demons and no one seems to notice. The battle is loud, fiery and explosive, dominating the London streets and skies for what seems like most of the night.
Only no one, apparently, takes notice of this event. Am I missing something? Do all Londoners go to bed at 8 p.m. and have a supernatural ability to sleep through anything? Because if so, surely this is my own misunderstanding. If not, it seems a curious thing that nobody would hear the explosions above, or see all those winged creatures silhouetted against the sky. When the camera swoops down into the streets, nobody is there staring up at the sky, no one is looking out a store window at the carnage in front of them, no one is calling Scotland Yard. And no non-demon or non-gargoyle ever gets in the way. No human beings were harmed in the making of this motion picture.
Which means all of the action could have been just as easily transported to an empty hillside in the middle of Ireland and it would have made just as much sense, and played out in largely the same fashion. Yes, such logical issues may be par for the course, and pointing them out could just be nitpicking. But come on - at a certain point there has to be some accountability for a movie's callous disregard for sense. Here, the idea of humankind's role in this ongoing struggle between good and evil forces is brought up constantly, only humans are such a complete non-entity that it borders on farcical.
Not that I, Frankenstein has a sense of humor. It most certainly does not. Like far too many fantasy "epics" these days, this one treats its inherently silly material with utter seriousness. Every line of dialogue is said with a grimace, spit out with anger or contempt or disgust. No one cracks a smile in front of the camera, and Beattie refuses to provide any levity from behind it, either. He is bound and determined to keep things grim and dreary. After all, dominion over the earth and the fate of mankind are at stake here - clearly this is no laughing matter. There's no reason why reanimated corpses, demons and winged gargoyles fighting each other should actually be any fun, is there? No, I didn't think so. This is serious business.
The film uses certain core details in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as a jumping-off point for a story in which Frankenstein's Monster (Aaron Eckhart) finds himself caught in the middle of a tug-of-war between good and evil. After getting into a scuffle with what turned out to be demons one night, Adam is discovered by Ophir (Mahesh Jadu) and Keziah (Caitlin Stasey), who escort him to their nearby castle and introduce him to their leader, Leonore (Miranda Otto). "I am the high queen of the Gargoyle Order," she informs him, with a straight face. The conflict with the mysterious "Naberius" (rhyme intended) is spelled out, as is the gargoyles' moral quandary about what to do with their new captive.
The merciful Leonore gives him a name, Adam, against the advice of Gideon (Jai Courtney), who sees this creature as an abomination. Somewhere in this scenario is the discovery of Dr. Frankenstein's journal, which lays out the entire history of his creation and holds the secrets that may allow Naberius (Bill Nighy) to unleash an unholy army of undead demon soldiers upon the earth. Leonore has the journal stored in the castle for safekeeping, which definitely won't come back to haunt her.
Meanwhile, Adam leaves his new friends, new weapons in hand, and goes into hiding for the next two centuries, killing demons in his spare time, before making his return to a London he doesn't recognize - except for those in the Gargoyle Order, who for some reason haven't changed their wardrobe over the last 200 years, even though they'd presumably like to blend with the locals so as not to draw attention to themselves. This "modern update" can only go so far, after all. Frankenstein? Sure, he can rock a pair of jeans, a hoodie and an overcoat. But gargoyles? Those guys are classical, and you just can't mess with that.
If I had to give a modest estimate, I'd say about 85 percent of the dialogue in I, Frankenstein is pure exposition, and I suspect that figure might be a bit low. Beattie apparently has no other method for expressing information. He just gives us one long information dump after another, punctuated by action setpieces that he doesn't know how to direct. Turning Frankenstein's Monster into a chiseled action hero sounded like a dubious prospect in the first place, but I can't imagine a more disastrous or nonsensical result than this.
Read more by Chris Bellamy