The classic Universal monsters movies made such an all-encompassing impact on the film industry that every 20 years they all get filtered through the reboot cycle again (granted the public domain rights status of all those characters helps, but still). Vampires have of course been all over the last decade of film in cheese-fests that shall not be named, Benicio Del Toro brought back the Wolf Man, and now we finally get the CGI blockbuster Frankenstein flick that no one wanted. Well, more specifically the screenwriter who confused you with Pirates Of The Caribbean and G.I. Joe has adapted Kevin Underworld Grevioux’s fantasy graphic novel sequel I, Frankenstein into a big dull, clunky blockbuster that no one wanted. Admittedly, any movie with a kung fu fighting Frankenstein’s monster punching demons in the face is not without its charms. But still, when a movie this pulpy lacks charm and fun, something went very wrong.
The movie opens with a fast-forward summation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, just to remind you what a wonderful story it truly is and how nice it would be see a proper version of that novel retold for contemporary audiences. Then Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart) is told that he has been chosen to be a warrior to fight in the middle of the secret gargoyle/demon war that has apparently gone on for centuries. Just when you start to wrap your mind around that concept, the monster trains to be a kung fu, demon-busting warrior and walks the earth until modern times without aging (aside from getting a haircut and buying a hoodie). At this point, you might find yourself thinking, “Wait… what?!” Don’t get too caught up in thinking about how that’s possible because clearly the screenwriters didn’t spend much time doing so. Besides, you’ve still got over an hour of movie left in which Frankenstein’s monster broods with a gargoyle queen (Miranda Otto), makes friends with a sexy supermodel scientist (Yvonne Strahovski), and battles against the apocalyptic plans of a demon king (Bill Nighy). Yep, it’s that kind of movie and not a good one.
Now, I won’t pretend to have read Grevioux’s original graphic novel, so perhaps it’s a brilliant piece of work ruined by lazy Hollywood screenwriting. However, I have seen Grevioux’s Underworld movies, and they suffer from the same problems as I, Frankenstein, so I’m going to assume that’s not the case. This is a movie planned by filmmakers more intoxicated with gothic-cool images and grandiose horror/action sequences than storytelling. There’s probably a very entertaining warrior/Frankenstein movie to be made, but it’s one that should be treated lightly and with a sense of humor. Here, Grevioux and co-writer/director Stuart Beattie play everything deathly straight and to the film’s detriment. Giving a genre film a broodingly serious tone is fine in and of itself, but that tone demands that the audience treat the material seriously, and this loopy screenplay isn’t close to solid enough for such scrutiny. The mythology is confusing. The dialogue is laughably grandiose and unnatural. The ho-hum effects were clearly produced on a budget. The story is full of holes, and the whole thing is just plain dumb. Now, if you were to make a movie with all those problems and a tongue jammed firmly in the cheek, you could get away with it all in the name of campy entertainment. However, there’s no camp value here. It’s all played sickly straight, and as a result the problems that appear from the first frame to the last are impossible to ignore.
Now, that’s not to say that I, Frankenstein is all bad. Some of the practical demon/gargoyle make up is quite effective when untouched by CGI. There are also a couple of genuinely well-choreographed fight scenes worth a look. But most importantly, some really good actors were cast in this gobbledygook who are always worth watching. Specifically, Bill Nighy slithers his distinguished British tones around his evil dialogue with the devilish charm of a veteran villain and Lord Of The Rings alum Miranda Otto knows how to provide gravity to fantasy, so the heads of both armies are well played. Then there’s Aaron Eckhart at the center, a perpetually underrated actor who mines impressive internal turmoil out of his role as Frankenstein’s monster and more than holds his own in the elaborate fight scenes. Eckhart is an actor who could play a masterful monster and be an engaging action lead. The trouble is that he’s never gotten the blockbuster to suit his skills in either area and sadly, I, Frankenstein doesn’t buck that trend. The guy clearly put a lot of work into the role, and it’s a shame that was all wasted on a movie that didn’t deserve the effort.
The fact that I, Frankenstein has a few strong performances and sequences almost makes the ultimate failure of the movie even worse. Without those high points, it would be easy to write off the flick entirely or even slide it over to the “so-bad-it’s-good” scale of movie grading. Unfortunately, the strong work from the lead actors only serves to undermine the camp value and remind audiences just how misguided everything surrounding them feels. It’s a bad movie that hits moments of mediocrity and never entertains at the level that it wants to or needs to. This is one of those movies too bad to love and too dull to hate. All the film really accomplishes is killing off ninety minutes of your life and sadly, those ninety minutes will be wasted and will never return. Don’t bother. It’s not worth it. The trailer condenses all the highlights and lowlights into two and a half easily forgotten minutes, and that’s a much time as anyone ever needs to invest into I, Frankenstein before pretending it doesn’t exist.