Vaguely watchable, umpteenth take on Shelley’s story, with Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy
A mish-mash of a monster movie, Scottish director Paul McGuigan’s film feels like it has stitched together the corpses of other cinematic explorations of Mary Shelley’s gothic lit classic. From James Whale’s masterful 1931 Frankenstein to Mel Brooks’s spoof Young Frankenstein to even Kenneth Branagh’s less-loved 1994 take on the novel, all feel sewn into the patchwork script by Max Landis.
Initially, there are some interesting ideas – notably in the relationship between James McAvoy’s title character and his assistant Igor (Daniel Radcliffe). Not a feature of the Shelley novel, the hunchbacked Igor has traditionally been a figure of fun in the movies, but here Landis’s script gives him a backstory and an emotional arc. Radcliffe scores points with his conviction, playing him as a circus freak with a desire to improve his lot.
Set in Victorian London, Victor rescues Igor and brings him to his laboratory where he is planning his grand design – to bring life to dead flesh using electricity. Funded by Freddie Fox’s slimy upper-class benefactor, the experiments become increasingly unhinged – just as McAvoy takes great relish in delivering the classic ‘It’s alive!’ line. Out to stop them is Andrew Scott’s god-fearing Inspector Turpin.
Amid all of this is a rather yawn-inducing subplot involving Igor and Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), a girl he mooned over in the circus, which rather clogs up the narrative. Romance, horror, sci-fi – there are times when Victor Frankenstein doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Tonally erratic, it’s also frantically cut, McGuigan and editors Andrew Hulme and Charlie Phillips delivering a breathless pace to match their protagonist’s thought-patterns.
With increasingly hammy performances in the final third – particularly from Scott – McGuigan doesn’t even have spectacular visuals to fall back on. True, the production design’s steampunk aesthetic intrigues, but the green-screen backdrops do the film few favours. McAvoy’s high-energy turn will keep you watching, at least, but only just.
General release from Thu 3 Dec.