I, Frankenstein

Despite their best efforts, the hard-working actors can’t elevate I, Frankenstein above garden-variety January trash.

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One of my biggest weaknesses when watching movies is that I’m so willing to forgive and forget glaring holes in the filmmaking process if actors I like are involved. And that almost happened to me here again.

But in the end, I, Frankenstein just couldn’t ever win me over. But it’s not because the actors didn’t try. In fact, I feel extreme sympathy for them for what they had to go through and the lines they had to say with straight faces.

Set 200 years after the events of the oft-retold story of a mad scientist playing God, the alternate-universe graphic novel adaptation sees Frankenstein’s monster (played by a miscast Aaron Eckhart) wander through the classic “unnamed city where everybody speaks with British accents” caught up in between a war between demons and gargoyles. The demons look to harness the technology used to create Frankenstein, called Adam rather inexplicably here, to resurrect the hoards of “descended” demons into thousands of human corpses. Although the war is ostensibly religiously based (and the imagery is shoved down our throats to the tune of crosses vs. pentagrams), audiences could be forgiven for thinking the battle raged over which side featured worse CGI.

Just a quick tangent here on my part. What does it take to put respectable visual effects in a movie? They certainly didn’t try to save any money, because recouping the nearly $70 million budget is going to be a monstrous feat indeed. I realize that not every film can be Avatar or Life of Pi, but it’s nearly impossible to make the leap of faith suspending disbelief when neither the characters, settings, or special effects look remotely plausible. I thank my lucky stars that I saw this in 2D, because I don’t think my eyes would have been able to endure the onslaught of fire and bright lights. Strangely enough, I settled in and adjusted to the style at about the 45 minute mark, so my attention drifted to the story itself.

The strange thing, though, is that a massive chunk of the movie wasn’t devoted to mindless action sequences. Inexplicably, a vast portion of I, Frankenstein is filled with dry expository dialogue. Perhaps writer/director Stuart Beattie (who wrote the first Pirates of the Caribbean and Collateral, so he certainly knows better) thought that audiences weren’t familiar with the Frankenstein story. Perhaps he thought we’d be very interested to learn the nitty-gritty details of a very easy-to-comprehend war. Whatever the case, any sense of excitement that might be generated from the film’s action sequences (and I confess, I did enjoy a few more parts than I’d care to admit) is jarred to a halt almost immediately by another needless burst of lengthy conversation. I was able to laugh off the first awful line (a cringe-worthy “It’s alive!!” wink-wink moment), but the constant onslaught of false gravitas proved too much for me in the long haul.

Let’s revisit the beginning of this review for a moment. How could I say that I almost gave I, Frankenstein a free pass, despite everything I’ve just said? Well, the surprisingly deep cast does some of the most brave acting I’ve seen in a while to distract the audience from the mediocrity surrounding them. Nobody should ever have to work that hard unless Oscars are on the line, so I just feel sorry for them.

It all begins with Eckhart, far too respectable of an actor to be burdened with a role like this. That being said, he does his best to be a relatively emotionless action star, and he actually settles in by the end of the movie. Despite some really really bad lines like “Descend in pain, demon” (I picture Beattie telling the producers “Get it? He didn’t say Rest In Peace!”) and the wooden titular monologue, Eckhart is fully invested in trying to pull the role off, so no fault can be dispensed his way. The supporting characters do their best work as well, especially Bill Nighy (isn’t he always the best part of any movie?) as the egomaniacal demon prince Naberius and Miranda Otto (Lord Of The Rings) as the queen of the gargoyles. Their characters receive little to no character development from the screenplay, but the veteran actors make these characters as interesting as they can. Even Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck) has a role as the scientist trying to scientifically recreate Frankenstein’s experiment. Her British accent is pretty bad, but she gives it her best go anyway, so she’s certainly easy to forgive. In short, I felt myself wishing for the movie to improve the match the amount of effort being shown by the actors on screen. I offer my humblest thanks to the cast for not going through the motions, because then we’d have a real horror story on our hands. 

In the end, I, Frankenstein is harmless enough if you focus on the hard work put forth by the actors and try to overlook the lifeless script that not even they can re-animate. Fortunately, I was able to do just that for most of the 93 minutes, and as a result, I was able to somewhat enjoy myself and salvage my trip to the theater. Is it an objectively bad film? Of course it is. But as a dictionary definition of January cinematic dumping grounds, it’s forgettable enough that I won’t be burdened by thoughts of the film in the future. And that’s something to celebrate, isn’t it?

RYAN’s RATING: 1.5 Stars out of 4

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