I’ve been curious about this film ever since the first trailer made my friend David Annandale‘s soul shrivel up into a black little cinder of pain. To me it seemed to be trying to hit a lot of similar notes to the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies. Which I actually like.
I was right, by the way. It’s very much got the same feeling to it, and about the same level of faithfulness to the original source material. (Also, the same sort of yes we are basically begging the fangirls to write slashy fanfiction FLY MY PRETTIES, FLY dudes being just a bit gay for each other but with a hefty dose of plausible deniability feeling.) And I did like it, though not to the extent that I’ve liked the two Sherlock Holmes movies. Part of this may be because James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe are quite cute, but they ain’t RDJ and Jude Law. Sorry, boys. But I also had some problems with fundamental parts of the film.
I will note for full disclosure, I have not read the original book, Frankenstein. I am also not an aficionado of the old movies like my friend David. So in a way, this makes me far more forgiving of this new version of Frankenstein, because major deviations that might be painful to truer fans would just hop right over my head. (On the other hand, I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes nerd, and I still love the Ritchie movies, so. I’m obviously not stuck on faithfulness to source material.)
On the good side, there’s a lot that I liked about Victor Frankenstein. The movie purports to be a sort of prequel to Mary Shelley’s story; it’s about the meeting of Victor and Igor and their initial forays into playing god, while Igor romances his fellow former circus performer Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay) and Victor tries to dodge super Christian Scotland Yard Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott). Igor and Lorelei are particularly adorable at each other. Electricity is used in non-recommended ways, culminating in a lightning storm at a Scottish castle belonging to Victor’s rich and skeezy patron Finnegan (Freddie Fox).
Daniel Radcliffe makes the most soulful, constantly worried Igor you could ever imagine. He’s got a serious case of Elijah Wood eyes going at times. James McAvoy chews on the scenery with great vigor, and it’s generally appropriate to the partially unhinged, megalomaniacal Frankenstein. The banter is decent and amusing, and Igor’s reactions to Victor’s histrionics are on-point. Considering he’s really the viewpoint character for the film, I think Victor, No. Victor, WHY would have been a perfect title.
The movie’s a bit action-y without making either man into random martial arts experts. The interesting visual device for the film is overlays of anatomical drawings, showing how Victor and Igor are viewing people and the configuration of their bodies. It’s a bit like the process-oriented fighting that RDJ’s version of Holmes does, something that gives you insight into the way the character looks at the world. And while McAvoy and Radcliffe don’t quite have the level of chemistry that RDJ and Jude Law have, they’re not doing too bad. I really enjoyed Lorelei as a character as well, from her taking her chance to live her own life with her gay nobleman as cover, to her being a point of moral strength for Igor–but she was also effectively the only woman in the movie.
While there’s plenty of action and humor that have been worked into the story, it leans more toward its source material in the sense that it still tries to ask some big and important questions. There are threads in the movie about religion versus science, the line between a good friendship and an abusive one, guilt, what it means to give life, and spiritual debts. The unfortunate part is that the film never quite ties any of those threads up in a satisfactory way, perhaps not quite brave enough to draw any firm conclusions one way or the other. Perhaps the best explored yet most frustratingly unfinished of these was the relationship between Victor and Igor; Igor believes Victor to be his friend, and Victor is a good friend–as long as Igor does what he wants. As soon as he begins to express doubts or stand up to Victor, he’s treated to browbeating and reminders that he owes his current much improved life to Victor and Victor alone. (In effect, making Igor as much one of his creations as the monsters, at least in Victor’s mind.) Lorelei even points out to Igor how this is not really friendship, and Igor does seem to make the journey toward standing up to Victor. Unfortunately, that journey never reaches a conclusion. And while I feel like everyone turned it decent performances, McAvoy’s sometimes strays so far over the top that he becomes comedic in a way I don’t think the film intended. Witty banter, yes, but cringing because Victor is literally frothing at the mouth? Likely not. Other aspects of the story I have some issues with, I’m putting below the fold because there are major spoilers associated.
It’s generally a fun trip, and if you like that kind of movie, you’ll probably like this one as long as you don’t mind some gore in the form of dead practical effects monsters reanimating into much less convincing CGI and attacking people.
Going to go into some spoilers now to discuss a few aspects of the story I have thoughts on.
The number one thing that bothered me about the film is Igor. I actually liked the twist on Igor being the protagonist, the every(sane)man who watches Victor’s spiral into obsession with confusion and concern. In this story, he’s a brilliant man in his own right, someone who is rightfully Victor’s partner rather than simply his assistant, and he gets the girl. Igor and Lorelei (who is free to do as she likes because she’s become the beard for a very gay nobleman) are absolutely adorable.
And all it takes is removing Igor’s defining disability.
At the beginning of the film, Igor is a clown in the circus, with no name but the “hunchback.” Immediately after being rescued by Victor, he’s informed by the man that his hunch is actually a giant abscess (which Victor drains in a comically disgusting way) and that all he needs to fix his terrible posture is a back brace. And then suddenly boom, he’s physically perfect Daniel Radcliffe. And then he gets the girl, etc etc etc.
Disability is already something that’s generally swept under the rug in film–or used overtly as a sign of evil–so this would have been an amazing opportunity for Igor to be brilliant, be a hero, and still get the girl while still being recognizably Igor. The apparent message that as a man with a malformed back he’s a helpless victim who must be rescued and can only reach his full potential after being almost magically “fixed” is disappointing to say the least.