I, Frankenstein – Review

Director: Stuart Beattie
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Yvonne Strahovski, Bill Nighy, Socratis Otto, Miranda Otto, Caitlin Stasey, Jai Courtney, Aden Young, Deniz Akdeniz
Genre: Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time: 92 mins
Opens: 23 January 2014
Rating: PG13 (Violence)

The film starts with an image familiar to those who have read Mary Shelly’s novel: that of a lone figure trudging across the snow carrying a body on his back. The figure is Frankenstein’s Monster (Eckhart) and the body, that of his creator, Victorian scientist Victor Frankenstein (Aden Young). Without a soul but somehow immortal, the creature finds himself caught in the middle of a celestial battle between the demons of hell and “gargoyles”, a contingent of angels who watch over humanity disguised as those stone sculptures. The Gargoyle queen Leonore (Otto) christens the creature “Adam”, and he takes the last name of his creator. It is more than 200 years later and the demon prince Naberius (Nighy) has his sights set on Adam, who is the key to the formation of a hellish army with which Naberius plans to conquer the world. In his human guise of “Charles Wessex”, Naberius has hired electrophysiologist Terra Ward (Strahovski) to conduct re-animation experiments; Terra keen to learn Adam’s secrets but unaware of the treacherous scheme they will be used to enact.

I, Frankenstein is adapted and directed by Stuart Beattie, whose diverse credits as a screenwriter include Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Collateral, 30 Days of Night and Australia. His first film as director was Australian young adult novel adaptation Tomorrow When the War Began (stars Caitlin Stasey and Chris Pang both have minor roles in this movie). I, Frankenstein is billed as being “from the producers of Underworld” and it does share a similar aesthetic and urban fantasy setting. Michelle McGahey’s production design is mesmerizing, the majestic cathedral sanctuary of the gargoyles and the horrific, cavernous demon corpse farm lending the picture a genuine sense of scale and grandeur.

There was every chance that I, Frankenstein would end up looking cheap and sloppily-made and there was no shortage of eyes being rolled upon the unveiling of the first trailer. Guess what: I, Frankenstein looks amazing. The visual effects work, mostly done by Australian houses Iloura and Cutting Edge, are top-notch stuff. The character animation on the angels in their gargoyle form is particularly noteworthy – the personality captured in the facial expressions, the mechanics of the wings and feathers, the mottled, stony texture – it reminded this reviewer of the Hulk in The Avengers. The visual representation of the “descending” of the demons and the “ascension” of the gargoyles (analogous to death) is also quite breathtaking, comprising dances of brilliant light and swirling fire. The Australia-based Makeup Effects Group may not be creatively named, but they sure produced some quality prosthetic makeup effects, particularly on the horned, reptilian natural form of the demons. The 3D conversion is not bad, especially in the flying scenes.

Yes, plopping Frankenstein’s Monster into a centuries-old supernatural feud does seem like an absurd and Hollywood-y jumping off point, but admirably enough, the film commits to the tone. Aaron Eckhart is a serviceable leading man, playing Adam as angsty, misunderstood and brooding, but never insufferably so. He never really got very good parts following the role that should have rocketed him up the A-list, that of Harvey “Two-Face” Dent in The Dark Knight. As mentioned earlier, he never convincingly looks like he was the result of a patchwork of multiple corpses, he just looks like Aaron Eckhart with a tiny bit of effects makeup. Eckhart acquits himself well in the action sequences, having trained in kali stick fighting to wield Adam’s weapons of choice. Also, props to Eckhart for delivering the line “I think your boss is a demon prince” with a totally straight face.

Interestingly, nobody in the supporting cast is terrible. This does seem like the kind of movie with some weak links acting-wise. Miranda Otto is stately and ethereal as Leonore, Chuck alum Yvonne Strahovski isn’t the least convincing cinematic “hot scientist” ever, Jai Courtney is gruff and grumpy as usual as her right-hand gargoyle Gideon and Hugo Weaving-esque Socratis Otto (no relation) is sufficiently menacing as hench-demon Zuriel.

Of course, it is Bill Nighy, dab hand at stealing the show, who walks away with hell (and the movie) in a handbasket. He relishes every chance to chew the scenery and seems to enjoy it after being denied the chance to make any kind of impact in Total Recall (2012). He bites into each word with entertaining gusto and dramatically arches his eyebrows the way only he can.

At first, I, Frankenstein looks like your run of the mill dumb, derivative CGI-fest and yes, there are goofy moments, the gargoyle concept is reminiscent of the premise of that 90s Disney cartoon series and it’s far from subtle (the demons in human form are all clad in business suits). But it does a fine job at being what it is, is never boring and manages to be sufficiently engrossing. It’s nowhere near as haphazardly sewn together as its protagonist and far as “oh, this is going to be bad” January releases go, it upends expectations.

Summary: Fire bad, but frankly, movie pretty good.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong