In an unfortunate trend that still continues to this day, Hollywood has been obsessed with Frankenstein and his monster almost since the inception of film as a medium. Somewhere along the way though, Frankenstein’s monster has become synonymous with cheap rubber masks and even cheaper special effects as film after film is stamped with the property license and twisted into something vaguely sellable. Unfortunately, I, Frankenstein appears to be no exception.
Stuart Beattie helms this malarky in his sophomore directorial effort. Previously responsible for the unremarkable action/drama Tomorrow, When the War Began, Beattie has decided to stick with a genre he knows with I, Frankenstein. The film is a loosely based adaptation of a graphic novel of the same name, written by Kevin Grevioux- who is also responsible for the absolute mess of a screenplay. Grevioux seemed determined to crowbar in his bloated exposition and nonsensical world building somewhere, but likely had no idea how to do it- but I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
Featuring stars like Aaron Eckhart and Bill Nighy, you could be forgiven for expecting much more from I, Frankenstein, given it’s capable cast. While Nighy clearly has a good time hamming it up as Demon Prince Naberius (because why wouldn’t he?), Eckhart does the typical action hero thing; that is, remaining mostly impassive and delivering every line of dialogue like he’s got a burning cactus lodged in his throat. More importantly though, I don’t really think that’s direction in which I want to see his career headed. He’s got so much more potential that the growly-voiced, stone-faced monster that he portrays that it comes off as nothing less than a gross misappropriation of talent. Eckhart, further reinforcing my point, is clearly acting his heart out and selling the role for all it’s worth- which unfortunately turns out to be significantly less than the price of admission.
More than the acting or the admittedly mediocre direction, I blame the writing for this train wreck of a film. I, Frankenstein has pretensions towards being a spiritual sequel to Mary Shelly’s classic gothic horror story, but while Shelly’s Frankenstein was heavy on staring, existential horror, a lot of that has been replaced with generic action sequences, presumably to cater to the lowest common denominator. Grevioux tries to incorporate a kind of Milton-esque, Paradise Lost sort of conflict between the forces of good and evil which fits into the established story line about as smoothly and naturally as Mitt Romney at an anime convention.
For instance, within five minutes of the film’s opening, the audience is already being beaten over the head with layers of half-baked, rambling exposition of only borderline relevance. The strange thing about the central conflict is that it’s surprisingly straight forward, but you wouldn’t think that considering the multiple monologues full of incomprehensible betrayals, motivations, and back story, all delivered awkwardly and disjointedly. There’s just no engagement with the audience on a narrative level, which makes the 90 minute runtime seem tortuous at best.
As far as the action is concerned, there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before. What I assumed was the selling point of the movie- that whole demons vs. angels vs. Frankenstein’s monster thing- is actually pretty marginalized and the two main fight scenes do little to break up the monotony. Not helping matters is the essentially monochrome visual aesthetic which might best be described as a cross between Van Helsing and Daybreakers, which sounds pretty awesome on paper, but in the hands of Beattie, it just ends up being as sloppy and uninspired as the narrative.
The fact is that no one probably expected I, Frankenstein to set the world on fire, but it baffles me how anyone willingly sunk $65 million into the project. At time of writing, the film has only earned back about a third of that number. Although it pains me to say it, in this particular instance, the majority appears to be totally right in their judgement of this sloppy excuse for an action flick- and that’s saying something.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5