********* 4 out of 10 *********
Frankenstein and his monster have a rich history to boast of. Almost two hundred years old history. The novel titled Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley was published first in 1818. The first movie based on this novel is said to be the one with the same title released in 1910. Then the 1931 adaptation Frankenstein with Boris Karloff playing Frankenstein’s monster further embedded this character deep in American culture. A colossal number of films based on the original novel or a loose adaptation of it or a spin-off with the same characters has followed since, with varying degrees of success and failure. And now in the second decade of the 21st century, I, Frankenstein becomes the latest film to carve a story around this immortal monster. This goes on to demonstrate the timelessness of the laudatory work by Mary Shelley. What it does not tell you is the rather poorly conceived and enacted tale of I, Frankenstein which is an abomination among the Frankenstein’s movies in much the same way the monster was considered by his creator in the novel.
I, Frankenstein does not dwell much on the original novel, and rather continues from where the novel left off. The origins of Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart) are quickly provided in a narrative, and then a completely tangential story follows, that of the battle between gargoyles and demons, which mankind is not aware of. The demon prince Naberius (Bill Nighy) is seeking the monster for his own devious reasons, while the gargoyle queen Lenore (Miranda Otto) wishes to protect him much against the wishes of her lead commander, Gideon (Jai Courtney). Frankenstein’s monster, who now has the name Adam, is not willing to join any sides. The landscape then shifts to modern times as Adam becomes a demon slayer of sorts, Naberius is still searching for him, and Lenore is still ready to protect him. And then something or the other follows, which leads to fights between Adam and demons, demons and gargoyles, and Adam and gargoyles. That’s a lot of fighting!
Hollywood has its list of poor movies made each year, the big budget flops with an array of stars or the low budget unknown productions that disappear quickly. Some of these badly made films still manage to keep you interested in bits and pieces in the film; they may be panned by the critics but manage to strike a connection with the audience. Silliness too translates to fun at times. I, Frankenstein is not one of those movies. It can keep you hooked for 30 minutes or so of its 90-odd minutes of run time, and then you are screaming for the film to simply end. It fails on many counts, and just like Frankenstein’s monster, it lacks a soul.
To begin with, the screenplay feels to have been written by a teenager who is all excited about gargoyles and demons but does not know what to do with them. Though in fact it has been written by the director Stuart Beattie himself. The dialogues are hardly conversational, and appear to be lines from a textbook to explain whatever is happening on screen. “There is a war coming” or “Mankind is going to end” finds itself thrown in the mix of things quite regularly in different versions, and due to the sheer number of times that Hollywood has attempted to “wipe out mankind”, it has stopped evoking any sort of fear or dread amongst us. The plot loses its way very early on in the film, and then you are left scratching your head after every minute. The decisions taken by the gargoyle queen will keep you clueless till the end, and you just want to grab onto someone who can explain if there is any deeper underlying message that you have missed. Random lines are thrown around to simply add some drama, unrequired even if they are; for instance, one dying gargoyle wants to be with her lover through death saying that the gargoyle order forbids them from being together, which begs the next question, so how are new gargoyles created? Is that the reason for their thinning numbers? Stumped! No one is answering.
Stuart Beattie has been involved with some wonderful scripts in Hollywood in the past, be it Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl or Derailed or Collateral or Australia, so the lack of effort to build something more cohesive and meaningful in I, Frankenstein escapes me. To add to that, there is not much in the film to take your mind off the weak script. The CGI effects aren’t astounding (the demonic faces are laughable!), the music score can be called average at best, and overall it is a weak effort from director Stuart Beattie who is working on only his second film as a director.
That brings us to the acting department. Hardly ever have I been left disappointed with the performance of the protagonist the way I have been in this one. Aaron Eckhart as Adam does not do any justice to this legendary monster played over the years by the likes of Boris Karloff, Glenn Strange, Christopher Lee and even Robert De Niro. Eckhart growls and mutters and fails to evoke any sort of emotion that the monster deserves; there is no sympathy in your heart for him, nor rage, nor fear. There are brief scenes which attempt to show the hollowness in Adam’s life and his struggle to understand it, but they are hardly moving emotive scenes due to the poorly pieced together shots and the unenthusiastic acting of Eckhart.
The ones who actually manage to make this movie that little bit bearable are Bill Nighy and Jai Courtney. Nighy is of course a well-respected and talented actor who has been around for long, and even though his casting as a demon price would raise eyebrows, he pulls off a menacing and determined character who seems to be the only one in the whole film with a firm plan in his head. Nighy gives life to his demon, through the intensity in his voice, the pauses between words which add a tinge of thrill, and the commitment in his eyes; for once, I was rooting for the demon to win this battle. At least the guy knew what he was after! And along with him Jai Courtney as the loyal gargoyle leader stood out in his performance, with much more passion in his acting that any of the rest could muster. Hopefully he would get better films to work in where there would be a larger audience to appreciate his act. Miranda Otto was forgettable as the gargoyle queen, and Yvonne Strahovski as the scientist employed by Nighy came in too late in the movie and had little to do to make any sort of impression.
Frankenstein and his monster may have faced a bit of a setback with I, Frankenstein but they have survived for two centuries not to be outdone by a single movie. They will surely be back again on the big screen, and we keep our fingers crossed that they would be treated more wisely and with the respect that such famous literary characters deserve.
Can also read: Actors behind Frankenstein’s monster