Highly anticipated on both sides of the Atlantic, Victor Frankenstein promised an original take on Mary Shelley’s iconic novel, incorporating popular stock characters, such as Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), to create a radical new take on a gothic classic.
Using a story literally born of an imagination competition between three of the brightest minds of the Romantic era, Paul McGuigan’s Victor Frankenstein is certainly not lacking in creative energy, but its efforts are entirely misplaced. Much like the labours of its eponymous character, the film attempts to create cinematic life from the rotting corpses of several hackneyed, jarring subplots, a palette Tim Burton wouldn’t turn his nose up at, and weak performances from cinematic stalwarts, producing instead an unnatural beast, hulking its way through 110 (long) minutes of screen-time.
Though it’s often unwise to set much stock by the marketing footage of a film, Frankenstein’s trailers do seem to offer some explanation for the tonal disconnect. Had you watched the American trailer before departing to your local multiplex in fevered anticipation, you might have been shocked to find a film that is at times quite serious and character driven. Similarly, had you watched the UK trailer, dripping as it was in Guy Ritchiesque grit and sidelong steely glances, you’d have been perturbed upon arrival by the incoherent smorgasbord of shitty action that punctuated an otherwise desperately slowly-paced film. Frankenstein feels like a three-hour film condensed into 110 minutes of action, strung together by irrelevant subplots which ultimately fail to constitute one whole narrative.
“an unnatural beast, hulking its way through 110 (long) minutes of screen-time”
Seemingly, James McAvoy has been paid his fee to laugh. Capitalising on the sensational final moment of Filth, McAvoy aims for manic, but hits a mark nearer ‘I-have-nice-teeth-and-a-charming-smile-see-I-can-do-love-interest-Richard-Curtis’. Curiously, though McAvoy’s Victor is undoubtedly charismatic throughout, he fails to establish any believable connection with Radcliffe’s Igor. Hints of the fabled bromance flicker in a scene of what can only be described as ‘whiskey-fuelled science ideas orgy with chalk pens’, but Victor’s unexplained possessiveness of his deformed friend and jealousy of (completely token) love-interest Lorelai, coupled with poor writing and a dearth of wit on both ends make for a catastrophic on-screen companionship, which signals a significant pothole in the careers of otherwise outstanding actors.
In her ‘Notes on Camp’, Susan Sontag states that camp art is that which ‘proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is “too much”’, and this is in essence the fatal flaw of Victor Frankenstein. It’s easy to say this film is bad, and even easier to suggest that it takes itself too seriously. It’s just too much: too saturated, too action-driven, too riddled with nonsensical subplots, too heavily peppered with clichéd dialogue to function coherently. The gothic genre traditionally does camp well, but in its earnestness, Victor Frankenstein misses the mark of fondly-titled ‘shitmazing’ Van Helsing, and ends up somewhere between Underworld and a dodgy colonoscopy.
We left the film feeling empty, nauseated, and like we’d seen the abject, sacrilegious insides of something we thought we knew well. Ultimately, we’re not saying don’t go. We’re just saying: go prepared.