Movie Review: Victor Frankenstein

My reasons for seeing Victor Frankenstein (VF) are two fold:

Lately I have become a bit too cynical in how I feel towards many new movies, especially over the past month. Preconceived notions can deter anyone from doing what they used to love and that goes doubly for film criticism. I let my interpretation of the trailer influence my decision to see it, thus hurting my quota of weekly posts. The stress of the holiday also played a part in it, but I should have made this and my other work a priority alongside everything else that went on. Rest assured, December will not be so bad as I have dedicated the weeks leading up to The Force Awakens to prepare posts ahead of time in a more consistent manner.

And secondly, I wanted to see VF after I discovered Max Landis was behind the script. He is responsible for penning Chronicle and American Ultra, but the reason why I like him is how outspoken he is about the business of Hollywood. Landis works on the inside and knows all too well how corporatization affects creativity, culling the potential of original works. He was very vocal about how American Ultra failed against sequels and IP related works when it opened, arguing that non-IP movies are treated second rate because studios feel they are too much of a risk. I symptomize with his opinions and so I felt obligated to see VF. Was Landis’s latest true to his views or is he all talk and I should have stayed home?

Summarizing this story is redundant because anyone with a cursory knowledge of film or literature knows about Frankenstein. The difference here is VF is told from the perspective of Igor, played by Daniel Radcliffe. The titular mad scientist himself, played by James McAvoy, is more of a supporting character and Igor is his storyteller. From there the differences end as Victor attempts to bring life to death.

VF is another ironic movie in the same vein as Hellsing, Resident Evil, and Underworld. Like those works, the film knows what it is and runs with it, playing with its gothic macabre aesthetic in about every way you can imagine. The setting of Victorian London is steeped in heavy blacks and greys with period consistent buildings, smoke stacks bellowing black smog, people wearing loud elaborate costumes, and interiors rife with detail both large and small. The machines and contraptions Victor uses are Tesla nightmares of copper wires that spit out electricity and complex gears that crank with a harsh sound of metal on metal.

McAvoy also knows what kind of movie he is in and enjoys every minute of it. He epitomizes the mad scientist archetype with toothy stares of glee at his own genius, long rants about the potential of his work, and one drunken tangent on how human birth is possible with a bucket. McAvoy’s performance was the definition of ham and he was having so much fun, you could see Radcliffe trying to keep a straight face in a few scenes.

Speaking of which, Radcliffe did a serviceable job as a destitute freak turned scientific socialite. Between Igor and Victor, the former had the heart while the latter was driven by rationality and ambition. Igor did what the role entails by supporting Victor, but on an emotional level that Radcliffe more or less achieved. The rest of the cast struggled here and there. Jessica Brown Findlay’s Loreili had little screen time, but that is probably thanks to her role as the love interest. Andrew Scott from Spectre showed up as Inspector Turpin and learned how to be a bit subtler about the fact he is the antagonist, even though it is still way too obvious. His performance is basically an impersonation of Nelson van Alden as the clam fanatic and I rather liked it. But Scott is no Michael Shannon that is for sure.

The biggest problem with VF is a strong feeling of studio interference. I am not just saying that because of Landis’s opinion on the system, but because it is very obvious. There is an air that a lot was left out or replaced. It seems there were supposed to be a lot more plot points, some supporting/minor characters are under utilized, and the ending is blatantly tacked on. There is also a lack of set-ups and pay-off, something all screenwriters know to include. Landis is no John Milius, but I know scripts often change in the process of filmmaking, and that is especially so in modern Hollywood. At that point it becomes difficult to judge whether or not the problems of the story are the result of interference or bad writing. You really cannot blame anyone and your only recourse is to point out the issues and see what happens.

Victor Frankenstein is a fun little movie and a good distraction if you are looking for something ironic. However, I feel I did not see the real movie. I saw a film that wanted to be something different and its benefactors would not let it. Had it not been for McAvoy, this movie would be dead in the water. If you like good actors hamming it up, give it a look. Otherwise, stay home.

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