VOD Review: Victor Frankenstein
As a film centered on Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) the movie starts strong, but quickly becomes silly and unbearable.
Way back in November of 2015 I weighed in on the latest Frankenstein movie by saying to wait for reviews. Well, always (belatedly) good to my word, I am here to review Victor Frankenstein, as my final look at Daniel Radcliffe‘s post Hogwarts film career. Despite an interesting premise of following Igor instead of Victor, and some great visuals early on, this film is not worth the wait.
The script is riddled with implausible characters with trite motivations, it has a monstrous problem with its pacing, and it has some very amateurish editing issues. The film could have been a subversive and meaningful look at an oft ignored character in a major work of fiction, but instead opts for silliness and mindless action.
Victor Frankenstein (2015)
Our main protagonist is a mistreated and nameless hunchback who has lived his whole life in the circus. To make his daily humiliations bearable, he studies anatomy, eventually becoming the troupes amateur doctor. One fateful night, Victor Frankenstein visits the circus (for his own clandestine reasons) and witnesses the hunchback save a fallen acrobat with his quick wits and self taught skills. Victor rescues him from the circus, names him Igor, and sets him up as his laboratory assistant. His project: to return a corpse to life…
Victor Frankenstein is full of interesting characters who are badly misused. Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) has an intriguing introduction, though I don’t quite believe you can home school yourself into complex surgery. Had that been the only over-reach when it came to characterization, I would have been fine, but this film cannot ever let its characters be anything less than super heroes. Radcliffe once again shows his fine physicality in the circus, and carries his deformity with a charming dignity. He reminds me of Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters or Little Shop of Horrors, lurching about in a way that is sympathetic instead of pathetic. If they had kept this aspect of his character, this film could have explored what it is like to be regarded as a monster while being a sensitive person (you know, one of the key elements of Frankenstein!) But alas, they quickly turn Igor into just another pretty genius, of which the film has a menagerie.
Victor himself (James McAvoy) is a ruthless sociopathic rogue…until the story needs him to be otherwise. He heaps both praise and abuse upon Igor, and you never get a handle on which element to believe. McAvoy chews often upon the scenery, and his Victor is of seemingly limitless skills (much like Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes, which this film is certainly cribbing notes from) as adept at science as he is at fighting and skullduggery. Once again, if they had just decided to create a Frankenstein who is completely without morals and who will use any means to advance his own interests, that would have been interesting, but instead they throw in a humanizing thread about his deceased older brother who is motivating all of his actions. It rings false, and it is completely “fobbed” off on the audience.
Finally, the supporting cast had some really interesting characters who are also turned into unrecognizable one-note plot devices. Andrew Scott plays a soft spoken and cunning inspector who hunts the pair of body snatching scientists, and his first scene is brilliant. His first confrontation with Victor is likewise engaging, using Victor’s hubris to catch him out in a lie. He would have been a fantastic foil, but the film gives him an unnecessary religious fetish, and he becomes a moralizing and prissy prig that completely flies in the face of his earlier cool and detached demeanor. Jessica Brown Findlay plays Lorelei, a trapeze artist who Igor is infatuated with, and she is quite engaging until the plot whisks her away from the circus to maker her a member of high society.
Three Ring Circus
The film is so willing to throw away its set up that it skips past being bi-polar and goes straight to tri-polar. Nobody in the second act resembles themselves from the first act, and the final act yet again has everyone drop their roles and suddenly have new motivations and characteristics.
Why did they even start in a circus if they didn’t want any of their characters to be low class or common? Just put them all in fancy duds and drop them into a glittering ballroom and stop jerking our expectations around! Why start with a bedraggled hunchback if you you’re just going to make him a pretty gentleman in ten minutes? Why create a clever policeman only to have him lose his wits and become a holy-roller? This movie feels stitched together from so many scripts that it becomes a more of a monstrosity than Victor’s creations!
The execution of the film is every bit as tawdry as the characterizations. Like the plot, the film jumps from place to place with horrendous cuts. At one point Victor and Igor are having a soulful conversation that leads to the issue of Victor’s prized pocket watch…and then cut. The film just jumps away to another scene. I rewound the film just to see if my internet connect had stuttered past a whole scene. Nope, they just cut it because it would have “spoiled” Victor’s surprise revelation in the third act. That’s terrible directing, and I expect better of Paul McGuigan who did some fine work on Lucky Number Slevin. It is far from the only bad case of editing. The movie actually highlights its poor editing by using a gauzy film around the edges of its cuts, and it makes the scene feel out of focus for the first few moments before resolving. It’s just bungled, and its a damn shame since the cinematography of the first scene is so lovely.
Victor Frankenstein had a good movie inside of it, but couldn’t keep it from being overshadowed by tacked on elements. Igor is engaging to begin with, and a film that explored his relationship with a talented but self serving maniac, and the abusive relationship that results, could have been excellent. We wouldn’t even have needed a monster! Igor’s appearance combined with Victor’s mania would have given us two thoroughly worthwhile “monsters” to explore. Unfortunately the film decided it had to be a big Hollywood extravaganza, complete with action, romance, and an actual monster.
By the time we actually get to the classical Frankenstein story, I was just out of patience with this film. The final act is horrendous and feels tacked on, and ends with a flurry of action that is just gratuitous. I felt deep sympathy for Frankenstein’s Monster…not because he is a sad creation, but because he had to make an appearance in this dreadful film.