Next up: I, Frankenstein!
This was a movie I was more excited about from the get go. I, Frankenstein is brought to us by the same people who created the Underworld series. Though not everyone was a fan of those vampire vs werewolf films, I thought they were a blast. Underworld took two supernatural factions and made each of them appealing in their own way. What’s more, they cultivated a surprisingly interesting mythology featuring werewolf slaves, vampire overlords, the origins of both creatures, and a love story to boot. You may not have liked them, but you can’t deny that they were quite ambitious for what was, at the end of the day, a simplistically hilarious premise.
So I took my enjoyment of the Underworld franchise and set forth into the new territory of I, Frankenstein. Buuuuuut does it deliver?
Frankenstein – Origins
As I did with Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, let’s first take a look at the source material. While it may be a stretch to classify Frankenstein as a “fairy tale,” for some reason I felt like it meshed well given its completely out-of-left-field reimagining of a fantastical creature. Now, I haven’t read the book in a very long time, so my memory might be hazy. With that said, the story of Frankenstein is that of a scientist, Victor Frankenstein, and his creation, Frankenstein’s monster. The monster is brought to life through the ambiguousness of SCIENCE (!), a creature that is essentially a number of corpses and various body parts sewn together into one whole being. It is a surprisingly sad story of a monster that comes into the world like a baby. It is naïve, optimistic, and friendly. These feelings are quickly shut down as the creature is pointed to as accursed and chased away by humans who are (understandably) terrified by what they see as one of the walking dead. The monster, hurt and angry beyond all recognition, eventually decides to swear off humanity entirely. That is until it decides that a companion would make it happier. So it approaches Victor Frankenstein, and that exchange lasts about as well as you would expect (i.e. – Not very well).
How does the reboot measure up?
I, Frankenstein basically begins as a sequel to the events of Frankenstein. Frankenstein’s monster is quickly attacked by demons and then rescued by gargoyles (who name him Adam because the writers forgot to bring their subtlety hats to work that day). Adam is told that he is now embroiled in a vast and ancient war between the demon clans and the gargoyle order. The demons want him for some reason, and so the gargoyles want to keep Adam away from the demons until they can figure out why they want Adam so bad. Adam says, “Fuck that,” and goes into deep seclusion in the icy north for maybe five minutes of screen time. Then he decides he wants to come back and kick some demon ass (???)
As you have undoubtedly noticed, everything about this movie is a titanic WTF. That said, some aspects of Frankenstein do make it through. There is a lot of talk and controversy over whether Adam has a soul. Many characters think he is lonely. A female scientist, Terra, is trying to replicate what Victor Frankenstein did, but then becomes fascinated with Adam to the point of abandoning her employers and becoming romantically enamored with the guy (I think that is what happened; the wooden acting made it hard to tell). So the concept of finding a “companion” for Adam becomes a plot point, and Adam quickly finds himself in a position where he has to commit to a side or else potentially lose Terra in the chaos.
As you can tell, I wasn’t terribly pleased with how this movie played out. But, before I rip it to shreds, let’s talk about what it did right. Respecting the source material isn’t one, so we’ll talk about that later.
One thing I did like about I, Frankenstein was its fight scenes. The Underworld crew is no stranger to monsters fighting monsters, thus many fights are satisfyingly bone-crunching, visceral, and pretty to watch. When the demons die, they burst into coruscating arcs of fire, making every battle into an intricate ballet of stone gargoyles and spiraling flame. Aaron Eckhart (the actor who plays Adam) clearly trained for the part, as he hurls himself into the fray as if he was born to it. It’s great fun to watch and helps paper over some of the movie’s other flaws.
Another thing that interested me was the faction of the gargoyles. Here is a holy order that is clearly losing the war against the demons of Hell. One of the first fight scenes involve the demons storming the last standing cathedral of the gargoyles, with the warriors of heaven preparing to fight to the last man. It is a quick and effective way to get the audience on their side, hoping that the underdog makes it out as they fight valiantly against overwhelming numbers. As the movie progresses, we see that, while the gargoyles represent heaven, they are not necessarily “good” in the traditional sense. They are quick to consider Adam not as an individual, but as a tool. This becomes a source of conflict between the two, and one that is rather interesting to watch. For a while.
However, these positive aspects of I, Frankenstein are not enough to outweigh its failures. Oh, man… Where to start.
- First off, the acting in this movie is terrible with few exceptions. We are not inclined to care that much about Adam; Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal is so wooden and one-note (with a gravelly Batman voice, no less!) that I was not convinced that he is lonely, wants a companion, or that he particularly cares much about what is happening in the war. Consequently, all of what made the monster a sympathetic character in the original Frankenstein utterly falls flat here.
- Adam’s love interest, Terra, is bland and quite literally pointless. I understand that she is supposed to be the bridge through which Adam gets invested in the war. The problem is that there is another scientist that fills her plot-specific role (make more Frankenstein monsters!) and she is dead weight in every other scene. Just a hot girl to be rescued and rewarded with. Ugh. The only thing that prevents this movie from being completely sexist is the women in the gargoyle order, but don’t get me started on those.
- The gargoyles get so much more love compared to the demons, both physically and as a balanced and fleshed out faction. Let me explain. Physically, the gargoyles get all sorts of badassery, CGI effects, and story attention. We understand that, though they are good, their motivations are a bit murky in how they use those around them who are not of their order. By contrast, the demons are one-dimensional villains who literally look like they have Buffy the Vampire Slayer makeup on (this is not an okay thing anymore, folks). And they get to die cool. That just doesn’t cut it. Compared to the balanced and compelling viewpoints of the vampires and werewolves in Underworld, I, Frankenstein is a joke.
I could go on, but this gives you a pretty solid foundation to understand how this movie just did not deliver. If I were to point to one thing, I, Frankenstein’s main failure was that we cannot connect with the characters. Why should we care about Adam’s isolation? He sure seems okay with it. Why is Terra romantically interested in Adam? What do they have in common? Why do the demons want to destroy everything? Why don’t the gargoyles get more help? And on and on and on and on…
Long story short, I, Frankenstein raises more frustrating questions than it answers, and that isn’t even talking about plot holes, which I just narrowly avoided. Don’t bother with this one unless you’re a big sucker for cool fantasy fight scenes.
TWO OUT OF FIVE LAUGHS!