‘I, Frankenstein’ Review
Quite frankly as misguided and problematic as the forlorn romanticism of Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 adaptation, not to mention as ridiculously self-serious, Stuart Beattie’s ‘I, Frankenstein’ isn’t even campy enough to be fun. Cut from the mold of the films in the ‘Underworld’ series, Beattie’s film similarly eschews the natural intrigue of the original mythology to pump it full of steroids and Hot Topic-style cool, adding an epic, age-old conflict between no less than angels (well, gargoyles) and demons for Frankenstein’s monster to be caught between – all of which showcases an excess of thought, and yet a shocking lack of brains.
Aaron Eckhart (‘Olympus Has Fallen’) plays Frankenstein’s creation, a lonely re-animated corpse who kills three demons while burying his master, in the process attracting the attention of the gargoyle queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) and catapulting himself into the middle of an historic battle for the fate of mankind. Dubbing him Adam, Leonore asks that he join them to fight alongside them, but the creature refuses, although after a period of isolation finds himself being hunted by demons.
But when the demon prince Naberius (Bill Nighy) enlists a human scientist named Terra (Yvonne Strahovski) to try and replicate the process that brought Adam to life, he finds himself drawn into the conflict whether he likes it or not. Allying himself with Terra in the hopes of uncovering the secrets of his origins, Adam discovers that he plays an important role in Naberius’ plans, even as he begins to reconsider his self-imposed exile – that is, if he can survive the explosive conflict brewing between gargoyles and demons.
With the exception of the aforementioned ‘Underworld’ saga, it’s hard to think of another film less interested in its source material, much less its conceptual foundations. In an era where the ability to create anything with CGI trumps the necessity for a reason to create it, it’s simply not cool enough just to tell the story of Frankenstein’s monster, his troubled relationship with his creator, and his struggle for a sense of identity. Instead, he’s got to be the lynchpin in this idiotic battle between two otherworldly species who have all of these crazy superhuman abilities – and more importantly, be totally awesomely superhuman himself, dude.
Watching the opening scenes of ‘I, Frankenstein,’ I was reminded of the story about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s first draft for ‘Good Will Hunting,’ where William Goldman read it and recommended they focus on the characters rather than a political-intrigue subplot which was originally meant to take over the second half of the film. The explanation and set-up for the creature’s existence could by itself make a pretty interesting movie, if someone spent more than five minutes on it; instead, Beattie, who adapted the story from Kevin Grevioux’s graphic novel of the same name, hurries through his back story, piles on all of the gargoyles-demons gibberish, gives “Adam” some weapons, and then spends the remaining 80 or so minutes of its 93-minutes running time on “the plot.”
Although Liam Neeson is probably as guilty as he is of pandering to audiences for a few dollars, Aaron Eckhart seems less able than the ‘Taken’ actor to distinguish between star-vehicle prestige projects and fun, lowbrow crap – at least watching this film, which he is unnecessarily pouring every ounce of angst into as if it were interesting or emotionally resonant. Adam is too wishy-washy to be a badass, and he actually has to learn a “lesson” from Terra – namely, to stop looking out for Number One all of the time and do something for somebody else for a change. Though he physically holds his own, Eckhart vacillates about two degrees between brooding and rage, which seems like a lot to hold onto when you’ve apparently been alive for several hundred years (which also begs the question precisely what he’s survived on, since he claims to have never needed a human before Terra).
Of the remainder of the cast, only Bill Nighy seems to have the right attitude about the material, which is to sink his teeth into it gleefully – but then again, after appearing in the ‘Underworld’ films, this must seem awfully familiar to him. Ultimately, however, the whole thing feels like a byproduct of financing rather than creativity – a series of blue filters, sweeping shots of fake cavernous locations, and scowling performances, coming together because the checks cleared, not because anyone other than Beattie and Grevioux had any genuine passion for how they were assembled.
Ironically, it’s a lot better-executed than one might imagine, but given its numbing proficiency and near-total lack of imagination, that makes the whole thing even worse. Because for better or for worse, a disaster might have signified real ambition, even if it failed – and if it’s not even extreme enough to be memorable, what’s the point? A better title might have been ‘Why, Frankenstein.’‘I, Frankenstein’ is in theaters now.
Todd Gilchrist is a film critic and entertainment journalist with more than ten years of experience working in Los Angeles. A member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Todd has contributed to a wide variety of print and online outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Boxoffice Magazine, Movies.com, Variety, The Playlist, MTV Movies blog, and IGN.com.