I’m tempted to say that I, Frankenstein was doomed from the get-go due to bad casting, but let me build my case before I kill the baby and toss its cinematic corpse on the pile. Really, though, who thought of pretty face Aaron Eckhart as the monster assembled from “dozens of parts from eight different corpses”?
My first thought when I walked out of the theater after an afternoon 3D matinee was that I’ll never get back that two hours of my life. Fortunately the film is short at barely 92 minutes. Subtract the closing titles that suggest they ran out of budget half-way through rendering, and it’s under 90 minutes of what seems much more suitable for a straight-to-video release than a theatrical release.
The story is one you’re already familiar with because “Frankenstein” is a fascinating novel about the very essence of life. Written by Mary Shelley back in the early 1800s, the story has been repeatedly watered down with cheesy Universal monster movie productions and monster mash-up films. Of course, Young Frankenstein came out of that storytelling blender too, and it’s one of the funniest movies ever made. I’ll even add a special hat tip to both the witty Frankenweenie and weird The Rocky Horror Picture Show, both of which were also inspired by the original novel. But for every one of those is a stupid or ridiculously self-important retelling like Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein or the horribly overacted — though visually enjoyable — movie Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Then there’s this film, based on a popular graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux and adapted for the screen by writer/director Stuart Beattie, who is better known for his work as co-author of the “Underworld” films. Grevioux’ graphic novels offer up a grand good vs. evil battle between gargoyles (who are forces of good created by the Angel Michael) and demons (the spawn of Satan created when he was booted out of heaven). This war has been going on for hundreds of years without us silly humans even noticing, and when Frankenstein’s monster (Eckhart) appears, the demon overlord Prince Naberius (a rather dull and miscast Bill Nighy) is inspired to create a demon army of reanimated corpses inhabited by otherwise “descended” demons.
After a good, albeit melodramatic opening sequence where The Monster kills a demon and meets the gargoyles, learning about this epic good vs. evil battle, he vanishes, shunning demons, gargoyles and human company. Two hundred years later the demons find him (apparently they are miserable trackers) and The Monster, now given the name “Adam”, decides it’s time to bring the fight to them since they won’t leave him alone. Who can blame him?
Rather than have the modern scenes set in a modern city, the majority of the film takes place in a weird sort of hybrid locale that’s part Batman’s Gotham, part seedy warehouses and part medieval city dotted with massive gothic buildings that somehow the locals don’t notice. Perhaps they’re suffering from the same mass hallucinations as the citizens were in The Shadow? Someday perhaps writer Kevin Grevioux can explain how it all fits together.
The gargoyle army is led by Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto), who might well have gotten her scripts mixed up and thought she was auditioning for the Ice Queen in a Chronicles of Narnia sequel. There must be some explanation for her poor performance in the movie, right? The toughest of the gargoyle fighters is the grumpy Gideon (Jai Courtney) and the head demon fighter is Zuriel (Socratis Otto), who apparently went to the “looming” school of acting. He grumbles his lines with some sort of post-processing audio filtering to make him sound even more gravelly and incomprehensible. When he does finally get to fight, he’s surprisingly not much of a fighter compared to old stitch-by-numbers Adam. No so epic after all.
The basic issue I had with I, Frankenstein is that there’s no verve, no fun, nothing to break up the unrelenting dark, self-important storyline. Even when cute-as-a-button Dr. Terra Wade (Yvonne Strahovski) is tending to a buff, shirtless Eckhart there’s not a single joke, no innuendo, nothing. And Adam? He’s already dead, so it’s not like we expect a (cough) rise out of him with the gorgeous Wade sitting on his bed, inviting him to come over and have her tend to his wounds.
There are other problems with “I, Frankenstein”, including a somewhat incomprehensible plot, but part of what really bugged me as I watched this turkey was that the story was built around an incomprehensible war between good and evil as embodied by gargoyles versus demons. But I never cared a whit about who won. And historically gargoyles were actually water spouts or drainage systems and mythically were dragons subdued and killed by Saint Romain. Having them as angelic warriors is weird at best.
I really do enjoy a good epic good vs. evil battle played out across the canvas of a theatrical screen. In this case, however, from casting to storytelling, acting to sets, very little of I, Frankenstein works out. The fact that I’m not alone in branding this film as a bomb affirms that I’m not completely out on a limb, but regardless, I do still want my 92 minutes back.
I wasn’t a big fan of Aaron Eckhart going into the theater. Now I’m going to be even more reticent about wasting any money on another film he’s in. Your experience may vary.
But I bet it won’t.