Editor’s Notes: Victor Frankenstein opened in wide release today, November 25th.
As audiences, we too often see familiar reinventions of classic stories. Sometimes, and only sometimes, they’re not too familiar, and bring something interesting to the table, like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. On the flipside, the much more common side, they’re derivative and not all that special in the slightest, like another biblical retelling, Exodus: Gods and Kings. Of course, though, reinventions are not limited to biblical stories, as we see far more of them pulling material from famous monsters and their stories; take Dracula Untold for example. This is the pile in which Victor Frankenstein falls, the new film starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe, directed by Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin), and written by Max Landis.
It’s a really interesting idea, honestly, observing a mad scientist through the eyes of one of his “creations” . . .
Victor Frankenstein is, as Daniel Radcliffe’s Igor states during opening narration, the story we’ve seen before. But, its “new twist” (which is practically required for a reinvention) doesn’t feel as blatant as others of its kind do, and comes off as more of an unassuming fresh approach, as the film plays out through Igor’s perspective. It’s a really interesting idea, honestly, observing a mad scientist through the eyes of one of his “creations” (in the film, Igor’s hunchback is fixed by Frankenstein). The story itself is not the same, as is usual with this kind of thing, so instead we follow Igor and Frankenstein learning how to perfect their grasp on creating life. Frankenstein has personal reasons to master this science, Igor has personal reasons to doubt him, and the inspector pursuing them both has personal reasons to put a stop to their efforts. In that, this is a strangely more intimate, personal film wearing the skin of a blockbuster.
James McAvoy is downright stellar, giving metric tons of character to every single one of his lines, from a single syllable to several. He’s incredibly animated, and on the edge of absurd, but finds an awesome balance.
The last Frankenstein reinvention we saw was I, Frankenstein starring Aaron Eckhart, and that was an unmitigated, unanimously recognized disaster. It was wholeheartedly a blockbuster, a dark and gritty one that felt the need to bring a “sexy version” of Frankenstein’s monster into our current time period. Thankfully, Victor Frankenstein isn’t set in modern day, but that’s not the only thing separating it from Aaron Eckhart’s painful monstrosity. It’s full of energy, exceedingly well-shot, and swiftly paced, which surprised me considering the marketing. Its trailers presented themselves as sloppily crafted rush jobs, and looked to be representative of the film they were selling. Contrarily, what we got undoubtedly had much more effort behind it. James McAvoy is downright stellar, giving metric tons of character to every single one of his lines, from a single syllable to several. He’s incredibly animated, and on the edge of absurd, but finds an awesome balance. Daniel Radcliffe counters McAvoy with a downplayed, sympathetic, and endearing performance, one that possibly stands out simply because he’s Daniel Radcliffe. But, I digress. Andrew Scott as the inspector tailing them is quiet, reserved, but captivating when he should be, going madder and madder with each passing scene.
The three of these men come together in an odd, charming dynamic, and it doesn’t just consist of some uninspired “Heroes vs. The Fuzz” schlock. Frankenstein is a man driven by scientific discovery who’s psychologically tied to a god complex in the face of personal tragedy, while simultaneously refuting God. The inspector is a man who is devoted to God in the face of personal tragedy, and is adamant to stop Frankenstein’s ungodly practices of challenging death. And, in the middle of this is Igor, an unsure man who wants to be morally right, but has difficulty balancing Frankenstein’s friendship and his romantic relationship with an old acquaintance (AKA his metaphorical voice of reason). Frankenstein and the inspector engage in a battle of ideologies, never realizing how similar they are, and Igor must figure out where he stands in it all.
It’s fascinating that this dynamic is present in what once appeared to be a misshapen action comedy, and surprisingly showed its colors as a genuinely interesting, fun little gem. If there’s one area where surprise is lacking, it’s definitely in the sub-genre of the classic reinvention. Yet, here we are. Funny how things work out sometimes.
Victor Frankenstein isn't set in modern day, but that's not the only thing separating it from Aaron Eckhart's painful monstrosity. It's full of energy, exceedingly well-shot, and swiftly paced.