"We shall create life out of death."
Max Landis may be the most insane, outlandish, love-him-or-hate-him writer working today, or at the very least he is for the sake of this introduction. Not only that but he seems to be specialised in creating screenplays for films that will one day become cult classics, some of the standouts on his filmography include the found footage superhero film ‘Chronicle’ and the stoner action comedy ‘American Ultra’. Now we have ‘Victor Frankenstein’ and to describe it simply…. is impossible.
A fresh take on the Frankenstein tale, mainly from the perspective of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) as he watches his friend and mentor obsess over the boundaries of mortality and death, as he tries to make his unearthly idea a reality.
Well frankly, it would take a lot for this version of Frankenstein to be worse than last years ‘I, Frankenstein’ (I still can’t believe that was made, there was an SNL sketch about a ‘Twilight’ style Frankenstein and then they actually tried to make a serious movie about it) and it is actually a lot better than the 2014 effort. However that does not by any stretch make it great. Though it claims to reimagine the story of Frankenstein this film does very little in the way of innovation of imagination to bring anything original to the story, other than a change in perspective and though that generates some interesting duality, interactions and developments between characters it does not generate new interest in the story that we are all fairly familiar with and cannot take that seriously any more thanks to Mel Brooks’ ‘Young Frankenstein’ (that’s Frank-en-steen). Although it would be unfair to neglect one or two homages that the film makes to the comedy classic.
A question that kept creeping into my own mind during this film was ‘Is Igor really that interesting as a character?’ When you think about it you wonder how a screenwriter would choose to sympathise with the henchman and overlook what has always been perceived to be a far more interesting character (one that the film is also named after in an odd titling choice). There is a lot of emphasis on the relationship between Igor and Victor which is a credible idea as an exploration of obsession and progress. It is not however, a good idea for a steampunk action film.
The main issue of ‘Victor Frankenstein’ is how convoluted it is, not in a bizarre or outlandish way, but structurally. Beginning as a story of relationships it then turn into what feels like the start of a horror film but then disappears into a simple action film. There are far too many subplots as well, from the religious group angered by Victor’s experiments to Igor’s love interest, rivalries with other scientists, feuds in the Frankenstein family (not a sentence I thought I would ever write) and of course the friendship between the master and henchman and though that appears to be the focus of the first twenty minutes it is placed to one side and rarely addressed again.
All of this is underpinned by the most tiresome clichés in buddy picture history. We have elements of work, love and ideologies standing in the way of friendship as they meet, fall out and then work together to defeat a common enemy. Please don’t yell at me for spoilers because frankly the ‘Batman v Superman’ trailer gave away the exact same plot for much bigger and hopefully better movie. But the clichés do not stop there, as ‘Victor Frankenstein’ also employ the typical tropes of every genre it stays into, from relatively uninspired action scenes to an utterly generic, arrogant villain.
But again the film tries to create a sense of emotional involvement but instead it comes off as pandering for sympathy rather than a genuine connection. Not to sound pretentious or snobbish but the film lacks a soul, there is little to admire or remember as unique within a worn out story. While McAvoy and Radcliffe have some fine chemistry together they never stand out individually, which to their credit seems to be the fault of the script.
However, I am plagued by a sense that somewhere, there is a niche audience for this steampunk action horror. I have little doubt that in the future this will become a cult hit, and somewhere there is an existing audience for the film, I have a friend who saw it before me and liked it a lot (although he also said ‘Jurassic World’ was the best in the franchise so maybe approach with caution).
Ultimately, ‘Victor Franenstein’ fails to add anything truly innovative or unique to the story it desperately wants to reinvigorate. Though it can be entertaining it feels fractured and jumbled beyond all else.