Victor Frankenstein (2015)
Director: Paul McGigan
Cast: James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of those characters that gets adapted on to film a lot. Like Dracula or James Bond, Frankenstein’s monster keeps getting brought back to life again and again; Victor Frankenstein is the latest attempt. The problem with popular characters such as Frankenstein is that if the new take on the character doesn’t offer anything new, it’s going to get ignored as another “unnecessary film”. That’s the first thing that popped into my mind when you hear that their making a new Frankenstein film. Is it necessary? What new angle does it attempt to impress us with? For example, Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) showed us an eloquent version of the Frankenstein monster, an intelligent version of the monster was something we’d only read about in Mary Shelley’s book. On Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990) we were presented with a time traveling storyline. Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein (1974) was a parody of all the old Universal movies, and so on. Each take on the character has to have an angle. Even the filmmakers know they are walking on tired ground, the first words spoken on this new film are “You’ve heard this story before” Yet onwards they went and made this film, and so now we have a new take on good old Frankenstein. Was it worth it?
On this one we start to dive into Frankenstein’s world by seeing everything from Igor’s point of view, which I found totally innovating because Igor is always relegated to slave status on these films, we’ve never really seen his story. He’s always been the ugly, monstrous hunchback who follows Dr. Frankenstein’s every order by saying “Yes Master”, not so on this movie. On this movie Igor is a circus performer, a clown act who gets treated with no respect despite the fact that he’s actually a pretty knowledgeable person who educates himself by reading a lot. While visiting the circus Victor Frankenstein realizes Igor is actually brilliant and decides to take him in as his partner. The thing with the Igor character on this movie is that they did a complete overhaul of the character. On this one Frankenstein straightens Igor’s back, eliminates his hump and gives him a name all within the span of five seconds. Bim, Boom, Bam! Suddenly we have a handsome, clean cut, well dressed Igor. This constitutes the biggest change in the whole story, the desire to treat Igor with some respect, to give him some depth. He’s no longer an assistant, he’s a partner. He’s not an order receiving idiot, he’s actually part of the reason why the experiments flourish, because of Igor’s genius. Igor even falls in love and actually gets some, that’s right, Igor gets laid, this is not your grandfathers Igor that’s for sure. What’s most interesting is that Igor is a character who doesn’t even appear in Mary Shelley’s book, I think this makes it even more obvious where the inspiration for this movie came from; we’re talking about movies feeding on movies and then becoming something else entirely.
I enjoyed everything about this movie, they way it looks, how well it was written, how characters grow and have a depth to them. These are intelligent characters we can root for. I love the dialog on this thing, it didn’t waste any time, it goes quick and to the point while not forgetting to be eloquent and well versed. I’m not saying it’s Shakespeare, because this is still very much a commercial film every step of the way, even going as far as setting up future movies, but it is well written. It’s dialog sounds appropriate to the era it takes place in. I read somewhere that the director behind this film, one Paul McGigan, said that he considered Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to be a boring book, which I have to admit, is true. It’s not a story told in an exciting manner, the book is introspective and philosophical, and it’s not exactly concerned with action or adventure. So I can see why the director would express himself that way about a beloved classic. In fact, I don’t think the filmmaker’s where even concerned with the book at all, they seemed more inspired by the different cinematic adaptations of the character. Their influences are more cinematic than literary. They even reference Young Frankenstein (1974) at one point, keen listeners will hear it. One thing is obvious, director Paul McGigan didn’t want to make a boring movie and if you ask me, he succeeded.
Thematically speaking the movie goes everywhere a Frankenstein movie should, it doesn’t lose the essence of the books themes. Frankenstein has always been about the difficulty of accepting death as a part of life. About accepting that at one point we’re all going to bite it and that there’s nothing we can do about it. The film goes into the whole religion vs. science issue. In the film, Victor Frankenstein is a realist, he doesn’t believe in any sort of superstitions or the supernatural; he is very grounded on logic and reality. This mentality is pitted against the mentality of the police officer conducting the investigation on Igor’s disappearance, who’s all about Christianity, wearing crucifixes and calling everything ‘sin’. Who will win this battle of wits? Religion or science? I liked that edge; I loved the audacity with which Victor Frankenstein screams “There is no Satan! There is no God! There’s only me!” So yeah, I liked the fact that the film tackles philosophical issues, as it should, being an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s equally philosophical book, so yeah, this film has some strong writing. This film was written by Max Landis, son of film director John Landis, the guy behind such films as An American Werewolf in London (1981) and The Blues Brothers (1980). So Max Landis grew up in the world of filmmaking, which always helps make a good screenwriter, or director or both. Children whose parents are famous filmmakers usually follow in their parents footsteps and sometimes end up being good filmmakers. Sofia Coppolla, Angelina Jolie, Roman Coppola come to mind. Max Landis is also a part of one of these show biz families, he’s known movie making his whole life, which probably explains why he’s such a good writer. Chronicle (2012) was fantastic, and so is Victor Frankenstein (2015).
The interesting thing about this movie is that it’s not really about the monster, in fact, you won’t see the monster until the films third act which speaks a lot about how well the film is made, it keeps you interested all the way through even when the monster isn’t around. Bottom line is, this isn’t a worn out cliché filled take on Frankenstein. It takes everything known about the character and pushes it a bit further, faster, quicker, to the point. The film is a visual feast, loaded with atmosphere, beautiful colors and a great set design! I loved that whole sequence with the castle on top of the hill, next to the ocean, as thunder and lightning crashed, cool stuff. Honestly, I’m saddened that this one is bombing at the box office in my book; it doesn’t deserve to be a turkey. Sadly, this sometimes happens to good films. And it’s happening to this one; it still hasn’t even made its 40 million dollar budget back, and that’s a “small budget” Hollywood wise. It could that audiences are still suffering nightmarish flashbacks of the god awful I, Frankenstein (2014). Or it could be that all anybody cares about is Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and fanboys are saving up their dough to see that one a few times. Maybe it has something to do with the absolutely bland poster. Whatever the case, Victor Frankenstein is a good film that doesn’t deserve to die a quick death at the box office. Go see this refreshing take on the character in theaters now! Save a good movie!
Rating: 4 out of 5