There is a legend that says that if one travels to St. Peter’s Church in Bournemouth during a cold foggy night in February, you can press your ear to the ground and, at the stroke of midnight, hear the spectral groans of Mary Shelley. What is the cause of her unearthly torment? Why, none other than I, Frankenstein.
Hyperbole aside, I, Frankenstein makes an interesting change of pace during the seemingly unending parade of prestige pictures released during the winter months to dazzle at awards season. Whilst other films talk of the atrocities of slavery or the life of Nelson Mandela, I, Frankenstein provides an easy-to-watch action film, with a simple story and basic characters. However, whilst for some films “less is more”, in the case of I, Frankenstein, it is far from a pleasant viewing experience.
For those viewers who have been dwelling in caves since 1818, the film begins with a rushed explanation of the titular Frankenstein’s origins. After brushing the matter of the beloved literary classic aside, getting it out of the way quickly, the film jumps straight into the action, having the ‘modern Prometheus’ assaulted by demons in a graveyard, only to be heroically rescued by gargoyles. For those of you who think you might have skipped a few lines in my synopsis, I assure you that you have not: it really is this inane. We see our protagonist receive a lecture by the gargoyle queen (a sentence that summarises the absurdity of this film) and then the plot makes a jump to the modern day as he returns to a cathedral in Unspecifiedistan. The film skates over the irrationality of calling the protagonist Frankenstein (considering that in Shelley’s novel Frankenstein was the doctor, the creature created only called Frankenstein’s monster) by, in the modern day, newly renaming him Adam. What follows is a standard good versus evil narrative – much like the plot of 2004’s infamous horror dud Van Helsing – with the demons seeking to capture Adam to learn the secret of making life and the gargoyles attempting to protect man-kind.
I, Frankenstein is richly coated in dialogue, spouting pseudo-religious babble, scenery that makes one long for the days of the plywood Western sets of the 1950s, and a world that seems to be perpetually in the dark of night. The location of the modern day city is unusually brushed over, the exact country that plays host to the settlement we find ourselves in is never addressed. But if the cinematography is good, surely a world can look as dull as the London Financial District and still come across as exciting? Well, once again I, Frankenstein must let us down again with pedestrian camera work and shots that are nothing short of tedious. Add to that a brutally short running time that leaves no room to breathe, we get a rushed and, at times, frantic sprint through locations and plot points that we have no chance of grasping.
Only a few names stand out from our cast of hundreds, and I use that term very loosely. Aaron Eckhart, most notable in my experience for his splendid portrayal of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, plays our ‘anti-hero’ Adam, and he does his best to breathe life into a character that has, and I quote here, ‘no soul’. His performance is not unlikeable, but when one has to act in a role as two dimensional as a piece of paper, it can be tricky to bring across an award winning portrayal. In an antagonistic role that lacks just as much depth, British national treasure Bill Nighy works hard to make his natural charisma and talent shine through: all to no avail!
The story is based on a graphic novel, which in my experience usually puts it in good standing. I must confess that some of my favourite films have been born from the comic book world, with Dredd, V for Vendetta and of course the recent Christopher Nolan Batman films to name but a few. Unfortunately, the usual comic book magic that accompanies such projects has fled from I, Frankenstein, and this particular film will not be joining the hallowed ranks of graphic novel adaptations I love.
In conclusion, I cannot say that I, Frankenstein is a terrible film, but conversely I cannot in good consciousness say that it is good. The team behind it are clearly competent, and it was unusually lacking in cringeworthy moments. If anything, the film is just a safe, marketable money spinner. With cheap effects, stock cinematography and simplistic plot, it was only meant to keep a film team busy whilst the studio attempt to make some income for later projects. My final score is a five out of ten, and I will only recommend it if you have an hour and half free to watch a film that will make you reach for your copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with renewed vigour.