This is a strange one; a riff on the story of Frankenstein’s monster, told from the perspective of a character who is more a Gothic trope than anything else – Igor.
In this instance, however, Igor’s not a hunchback and Victor Frankenstein is a lowly med student, and the monster isn’t really a monster and… well, let’s say it has little in common with Mary Shelly’s classic. In fairness the movie realises this and plays a get-out-of-jail-free right at the start; the opening monologue delivered by Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), telegraphs that Paul McGuigan’s film may stray from its source material somewhat.
Like the Guy Richie Sherlock films starring Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law, this movie takes a classic tale and blends it up to create something new. Although, if we have to compare them, Sherlock was much more successful.
Igor begins his story as as a dirty, hobbled circus performer with a love for anatomy before he is swept up in Victor’s mad pursuit of bringing the dead back to life. Radcliffe does a sterling job; he’s the target for a lot of abuse in the film – usually at the hands of his employers – but he also acts as the story’s moral compass, question the ethics behind Victor’s questionable experiments.
He also plays straight man to the erratic Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy). After seeing McAvoy partake in endless depravity in Filth, one could expect him to play Frankenstein as a cross between a mad scientist and Charlie Sheen. However, the movie never gives him any edge outside of a love for whiskey, family troubles and a problem with public speaking.
Victor is a whirlwind of fast-talking movie-grade science-speak interrupted occasionally with arguments with other characters the ethics concerning test tube babies and his contempt for religion.
Whatever your feelings about his views and beliefs, the character never comes across as smart or charming enough to warm up to. This may have been intentional as we later see the character brought down a few pegs after a stern talking to (and a smack to the face), but he never sways you to his side.
The character is salvaged somewhat by the interactions with Igor; the two of them have chemistry and they bounce off each other really well. One scene involving a large amount of alcohol and the two lab partners creating their own version of man may be the highlight of the whole endeavour.
The underlying friction between the two friends is a theme throughout and the supporting cast continually plays on this. None of them stand out as they don’t go beyond serving to advance the plot. Even a cameo from Charles Dance feels forgetful as it plays out like a rehash of stern old Tywin Lannister from Game Of Thrones.
Director Paul McGuigan (known for Lucky Number Slevin) really should have kept a tighter control over things, because the ingredients for something better really were there to begin with… they just didn’t mix evenly.
For every point Victor Frankenstein wins with a unique setting or great visual, it loses one with an equally dull environment and laughable CGI. There’s no constant stream of quality or lack thereof, it almost feels like each scene was done by a different production crew years apart; the disparity is glaring.
So, rather strangely, Victor Frankenstein ends up being janky and incoherent like the monster it chases for the overly long 109 minute running time. It comes alive as one of those films which asks its audience to be a fan of its constituent parts. Do you like the classic Mary Shelley story or Radcliffe or McAvoy or, hell, do you like the trappings of a classical London setting? Then dive right in here, but don’t expect it to make you feel alive.
Verdict Does just enough differently to warrant a recommendation, especially if you’re a fan of the actors or premise 65%