FEARNET Movie Review: 'I, Frankenstein'


i frankensteinI am sometimes accused (by friends, by readers, and by myself) of being a little "overly-kind" to studio-backed genre films. Last January I got behind Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and a year before that I happily called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter a "surprisingly good time." Considerably more pertinent to the topic at hand is this: I really like the first Underworld film. Why is that pertinent to the discussion of the new action / horror / nonsense movie I, Frankenstein?

Both films come from the same producers, the same production company, and the same author. Also they're the exact same story. One could almost call it plagiarism if anyone cared enough.
Underworld (2003) was about a clueless man who finds himself embroiled in a centuries-old super-feud between vampires and werewolves.
I, Frankenstein (2014) is about a clueless man who finds himself embroiled in a centuries-old super-feud between gargoyles and demons.
Both films also feature awful dialogue, sketchy yet omnipresent CG explosions, a cinematographic palette best described as "bruised purple," and Bill Nighy spouting huge geysers of wonderfully portentous nonsense. But while Underworld had a little romance, style, and novelty, I, Frankenstein is just another silly trip into the brain-dead genre-smasher. Action, horror, drama, dark fantasy, and even science fiction get a casual nod as the movie lurches through its patently predictable plot contortions. None of the genres is treated all that well.
I, Frankenstein opens with a seven-line encapsulation of everything "important" that happens in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, delivers a truly absurd action sequence, and then kicks off a practically endless deluge of nonsensical plot exposition. Poor Miranda Otto is asked to deliver some of the goofiest dialogue of the past ten years, to say nothing of the black hole of a character that leading monster Aaron Eckhart has to contend with. (Eckhart's simple charm and calm attitude could make for a solid action hero; it just never happens in this movie.)
It's hard to know how a film with such consistently insipid dialogue comes from the screenwriter behind Collateral and 30 Days of Night, but it gets so bad that I, Frankenstein often hits the screen feeling like a parody of movies just like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. But parody takes intelligence, and I, Frankenstein's IQ is on the same level as Van Helsing. Yes, it's that kind of bad. Make-up effects that range from questionable to laughable surely don't help; much of the CG animation looks antiquated or unfinished.
As drama, I, Frankenstein plays like a comedy, and as comedy it's just silly. (Bill Nighy, of course, is the only one who seems to be having any fun at all.) As horror, I, Frankenstein plays like something completely unrelated to Mary Shelley's classic novel. The script throws in a few ideas about the monster's search for self, but it's mostly just meaningless blather that's used to fill empty space between the action sequences. And as an action movie, I, Frankenstein is almost horrifyingly anemic. Sure, some of the "gargoyles vs.demons" lunacy is fun for an isolated moment or two, but I, Frankenstein boasts two "epic" action set-pieces -- and neither of them are all that scintillating. (To be fair, the gargoyles look pretty great when they're not involved in action scenes; the demons are, well, they're silly.)
The end result is a film that feels more like generic "January movie product" than the fruits of someone with a clever idea about turning Frankenstein's monster into a reluctant superhero. Generally speaking, monsters are great, action is fun, and absurd concepts about beloved characters are all fine and good, but I, Frankenstein is completely lacking in originality, energy, and simple common sense. It's tough to defend a goofball genre film when it's this sloppy.
Silver linings: Mr. Nighy earns a few laughs, the score is solid, the leading lady is very pretty, and the always-awesome Bruce Spence drops in for a few scenes near the end. Beyond that, this is just a big mess.

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