‘I, Frankenstein’ Fails to Find its Lightning Bolt and Remains Dead on the Table
Directed by Stuart Beattie
Written by Kevin Grevioux and Stuart Beattie
Despite having his origins in classic literature, Frankenstein’s monster has become a truly cinematic beast, having shown up in countless screen iterations since first being brought to life by Boris Karloff in 1931. No surprise, then, that I, Frankenstein, originally a comic series by Underworld scribe Kevin Grevioux would get the big-screen treatment, and even less of a surprise to results aren’t particularly pretty.
Aaron Eckhart stars as the creature, this time named Adam, who becomes embroiled in a centuries-old war between demons and gargoyles, who are both God’s warriors on Earth and far less interesting than any early-90s Disney Channel cartoons would have you believe. Though he initially wants no part of the war, having no love for humanity, Adam is forced into the conflict when the demons begin pursuing him, hell-bent (pun intended) on unlocking the secrets of reanimation for their own dastardly purposes, rescuing a beautiful scientist unknowingly working for the demons along the way.
Those looking for any new or interesting takes on the Frankenstein mythos, such as it is, will be quickly disappointed. I, Frankenstein drops the depiction of the creature as a tragic metaphor for man’s scientific hubris in favor of transforming the poor beast into blonde, square-jawed action hero #12,421, a broody lone warrior type who spouts cliches like “This ends tonight” and “I walk my own path” with unfortunate regularity.
In this way, he’s the most consistent character in the film, as the supporting cast is made up of a succession of dialogue-spouting homunculi with no consistent character whatsoever. Yvonne Strahovski’s stock “hot science lady” barely bats an eyelash when her boss suggests that a good way to further her reanimation research would be with a 200-year old walking corpse, but when said same walking corpse tells her he’s part of an ancient war between demons and altruistic masonry, she can barely contain her disbelief. Similarly, one minute, Jai Courtney’s gargoyle general Gideon readily hands over the key to the apocalypse to the demons to rescue the gargoyle queen, but spends the rest of the film questioning and undermining her. You’d think at least the characters who are literally carved in stone would show some consistency.
But even when the characters can manage to say consistent from one scene to the next, they’re usually just boring, falling into stock roles like Homer Simpson falling into the Springfield Gorge. Strahovski is a walking archetype, the damsel in distress turned into a scientist to deflect accusations of damsel-ism. When the inevitable scene of her bandaging Adam’s wounds comes, her lower lip trembling at the sight of his scarred but still chiseled pecs, it’s with a sense of inevitability not unlike the drop of a guillotine blade.
The whole film has the aroma of being a half-finished script handed off to a special effects department, one a bit too eager to use the film as their personal demo reel. When both the demons and gargoyles are killed, their souls either descend to hell or ascend to heaven in bright cascades of light, which casts the whole “ancient secret war” thing into question, given that their battles can literally be seen for miles. The demons themselves look like background characters from an episode of Buffy, Prague nightclubbers or tax collectors wearing (usually silly looking) prosthetic masks that make their heads seem massively out of proportion to their body, which means they often look more goofy than threatening.
Once in a while there’s a fight scene that manages to break up the tedium of inconsistent characterization and rejects from the Haunted Mask episode of Goosebumps, and for these few moments the film does come briefly to life. But more often than not the effects team will pop their head in the door like an annoying neighbor saying “Hey, know what this scene needs? CGI fireballs flying everywhere obscuring everything, because we really really want to prove we can animate fire!”, which is usually around the same time you remember the film is in 3D and all the flying fireballs and scenes of Adam dramatically jumping out windows make a crushing kind of sense.
Of course, none of this makes I, Frankenstein a bad movie, just a not a particularly good one, the same kind of B-grade effects wannabe-blockbuster that usually gets bumped out of a summer release and exiled to the wastes of winter because no one at the studios had faith in it to compete with the movies with more recognizable actors and effects budgets that could feed Uganda for a year. Two or three years from now, you’ll see it alongside Van Helsing, Hansel & Gretel: Witchhunters and possibly that Solomon Kane movie they did and think, “Oh yeah, that was a thing” before scrolling on to better ones.
— Thomas O’Connor