“You know how it begins…” – Yes, we do, so please show us something new Victor Frankenstein. By the look of the title, any expectations you had for a vivid reimagining have just been shattered. Mary Shelley’s enlightening creation seems to have been reused in a way that reaffirms the particulars of such an act of scientific transgression.
Victor Frankenstein begins by referencing its roots, aware of the congested crowd it enters. But does it do enough to add something new to a tale which has become ingrained in our minds? Well, it shifts the setting to Victorian London and continues the gothic themes prevalent within Frankenstein. Its supposedly greatest change however is focusing on the man behind the legend, and not so much the “unholy creation” itself. But, unfortunately, we have seen this all before.
Interestingly, it is Igor who narrates the tale and opens the film, demonstrating the film’s different angle on the legend, which is a welcome change. It is interesting only because with Igor, Victor Frankenstein offers something new, crafting an opening that sets up the characters well without dallying over the past. However, from here on, Victor Frankenstein stagnates because its take on life after death is too simple to flesh out. Once Finnegan, a wealthy benefactor played by Freddie Fox, enters the fray, the film suddenly shifts into on-the-run mode whereby Victor and Igor turn from scientific entrepreneurs into fugitives. At the same time, Finnegan’s own desires take centre stage, finally allowing the film to have a point to work from. Before his arrival, it was simply the knowledge of creating life that drove the film, but by the end, it boiled down to a physical battle between God and science.
Victor Frankenstein is a film that focuses rigidly on the science behind the madness, but only scrapes the lid of what their transgression means. It throws around hefty sentences but only scratches over their significance, from “life is a sacred creation” to “there is no mercy in nature”; they need to delve deeper because with a story like this we know the surface message inside out. The very fact that it makes clear our awareness of the story from the beginning, combined with its inability to explore the depths of taking life into one’s own hands, condemns Victor Frankenstein to a cliché as it merely reaffirms centuries-old debates.
Upon reaching its show-stopping culmination, where Victor’s modern Prometheus is unveiled in all its lavish glory, Victor Frankenstein does not break new ground. It instead produces a satisfying end that excites beyond the considerations it fails to investigate thanks to the man vs. monster showdown. But, if Victor Frankenstein chose not to use the name of ‘Frankenstein’ then perhaps its imagining of an old story would have been more unique, and it wouldn’t have restricted where it could go.
Like Colin Clive, Peter Cushing, and Kenneth Branagh before him, James McAvoy gets to take the reigns of Victor Frankenstein. Though McAvoy imbues a bit too much life into Victor, losing his initial intrigue, he goes berserk during the climax. His sole aim of eagerly trying to change the world makes him a one-dimensional character whose selfish invincibility overshadows every other trait we’ve ever known.
“Similarly to the source material, McAvoy reeks of maniacal ambition, confidently dominating his way through each conversation and confrontation that is quite entertaining to watch”
Daniel Radcliffe’s Igor is a nice addition and a better character than Victor, but McAvoy gives the better performance. Igor has a cardboard-like early life which he is saved from. However, he develops in big chunks, and all of a sudden, he can walk straight and get a girlfriend. Igor is a character with personality and slight depth, but he is blighted by Radcliffe’s helplessness to shake off his Harry Potter image. Andrew Scott, otherwise known as Moriarty from BBCs Sherlock, is more at home here than he was in Spectre. He unleashes his darker personality, and like Victor’s overt ambition, this becomes his defining quality.
The boisterous pacing of Victor Frankenstein defines the nature of its appeal. From its blistering opening that sets up the characters, their traits, and their journeys within 10 minutes, Victor Frankenstein clearly doesn’t want us to settle. It is pure blockbuster filmmaking, but it is entertaining. However, this cannot be kept up for the whole film, and the hints of suspense and horror fail to be sustained. One thing the speed of the film can do is deliver comedy in abundance. This presents the film with a mixture of suspense and comedy, a fusion that cannot let Victor Frankenstein hope to be more dramatically sinister. Like its circus opening, Victor Frankenstein’s reimagining of Mary Shelley’s classic is all over the place, but at times it can be entertainingly in the right place.
Utilising Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein without the novelty required to sustain its regeneration, Victor Frankenstein proves to be easily forgettable entertaining viewing.