Film Torments: I, Frankenstein (2014)
WITH hot-off-the-presses cinematic perversion, Dracula Untold, hurling anti-heroic confetti on a much beloved legend among monsters, it’s time we take a sidelong skew at another recent tarnishing of a literary classic: I, Frankenstein. Directed as a sophomore effort by Stuart Beattie, the film stars Aaron Eckhart – universally recognised to be one of the most handsome men on the planet – as Frankenstein’s Monster. It’s also written by Kevin Grevioux, creator of the Underworld film series. We certainly are in capable hands.
I, Frankenstein follows Eckhart’s slightly-scarred Monster – referred to throughout as Adam, presumably for Sixth-Former symbolism and scriptwriting convenience – as he’s caught in the deluge of a war between gargoyles and demons. Okay. As the only living being created without the say-so of God himself, Adam finds himself coveted by both the gargoyles and the demons, resulting in a maelstrom of terrible CGI, laughable dialogue and convoluted metaphysics.
Of course it’s rubbish; you don’t need an 800-word review to spell it out for you. With a premise this awesomely bad though, the question of quality ultimately comes down to: Is it bad enough for me to enjoy? The answer is surprisingly mixed. On the one hand, the hilarious absurdity of Frankenstein’s Monster burning unholy demons to a crisp and ripping the wings off stone gargoyles is a draw in itself; the other hand, however, shows us a trudge through meandering existentialism, brooding wangst and endless, fathomless seas of exposition.
The characters of I, Frankenstein – without exception – speak Expositionese, at all times. They suffer from crippling bouts of Expositionitis. Not five minutes pass without torrid streams of exposition flooding out of their mouths. For instance: the line, “We are the gargoyles, created by the archangel Michael to do battle with demons and protect humans,” is probably repeated, in various combinations, 16 separate times. Miranda Otto, a welcome face who I haven’t seen in a film since War of the Worlds, looks like she’s in pain when she has to introduce herself as “Queen Leonore of the gargoyles” (another oft-repeated and laugh-prompting line).
Bill Nighy as demon Prince Naberius, by contrast, is having a whale of a time, at times channelling his turn as Davy Jones. He daintily prances around his evil scientist laboratories with glee dripping off his drawn-in face. He treats the source material with the amount of respect it deserves, camping it up to the nth degree as he damn well should be. This, at least, betrays I, Frankenstein’s Underworld lineage; Nighy flounced and purred in that series too. He’s pure vaudeville, and he fucking loves it.
Eckhart, concurrently, seems to be attempting to take things seriously by presenting three expressions: Confused, angsty, and angstfused. Having rewatched The Dark Knight recently, it’s easy to forget that Eckhart does a whole load of nonsense, including, but not limited to: The Wicker Man (with the inestimable Nic Cage), Battle: Los Angeles and Olympus Has Fallen. His turn as Adam is not entirely surprising, given this context, but he wrestles well with a severely underwritten role. Despite spending most of the film asking variations on, “Who am I really?” Eckhart instils a small sense of tragic gravitas to pulpy bullshit.
Unfortunately, in spite of a decent performance, he’s just too damn beautiful to play the role of Frankenstein’s Monster, an unspeakably hideous abomination before God and man. The most they do with him is shove an overcoat on him, stitch a few nasty scars on his face and leave it at that. Say what you will about Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – among them that mouthful of a title – Robert de Niro was thoroughly believable as a repugnant monstrosity, both looking and acting the part. You kind of need Frankenstein’s Monster – MONSTER being the key word – to be a fuck-ugly bastard. Even Van Helsing – a different slice of entertaining pseudo-Gothic guff – understood this.
The action sequences range from competent to absurd to hilarious, often all three at the same time. The moment when Adam slow-mo haymakers an oncoming gargoyle for absolutely no reason sums it up: Zippy and gravity-defying without weight, rhyme or reason. Zack Snyder’s trademark speed-up slow-down technique that has plagued every action sequence since 300 makes its contractual appearance, of course, while demons disintegrate into bite-sized ash chunks and horrendously animated CG gargoyles hover around and make silly faces.
Grevioux’s writing uses a lot of silly terms like ‘descending’ and ‘ascending’ (because ‘killing’ is too explicit?), peppering them all over his speech-heavy script that gets bogged down with explanations we neither need nor care about. Beattie’s direction mostly consists of looming CG Gothic arches and telling Eckhart and Otto to stand and brood on top of them; the film only really comes alive when Nighy’s onscreen in his crazy electro-labs, telling hapless scientists to get the damn job done.
It’s all very silly, obviously, but it’s completely harmless rubbish that gets you laughing. When I watched it with my housemates, we found ourselves screaming, “Seamlessly weave that exposition, film!” at the screen, pissing ourselves at every awkward mention of “Queen of the gargoyles”. If you liked Underworld and its myriad sequels – ironically or not – this is right up your alley. It’s rubbish, of course, but it’s the I-don’t-give-a-shit kind of rubbish that rejoices in its own naffness. Get on it.