Movie Review: “Victor Frankenstein”

James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott
Paul McGuigan

Sometimes a bad movie reminds you of how great certain actors are, and that’s definitely the case with “Victor Frankenstein.” For the most part, director Paul McGuigan’s reimagining is just that – a bad movie – but it’s one that’s lucky enough to have James McAvoy in the lead role. McAvoy is a great actor, which he proves here by giving his all as the titular character, in spite of the quality of the end result.

Written by Max Landis (“Chronicle,” “American Ultra”) – although it went through a series of rewrites, as is usually the case on a project of this scale – the film tracks the early relationship between Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and hunchback/surgeon Igor Strausman (Daniel Radcliffe). The hunchback’s real name isn’t Igor; he’s simply taken the identity of Frankenstein’s absentee roommate. After freeing the young man from the circus and curing him of his back problem, Frankenstein offers the lost soul a chance at greatness: to be his partner and create life. Of course, as we’ve learned from past Frankenstein adaptations, that doesn’t work out so well.

“Victor Frankenstein” is a well-intentioned misfire. The film is more about a friendship than monsters running amuck, and McAvoy brings a sense of sadness and manic energy in almost every scene he’s in. The character’s arc and McAvoy’s performance are well rounded. At the end of the film, his sad past and obsessive drive is palpable. It’s a very, very good performance, but even if it was the best performance of the year, it couldn’t salvage the rest of the film.

McGuigan has made a truly garish film. Most of the environments never feel lived in. You know you’re looking at a set or a CG exterior. There are also these odd little modern touches – like some computed animated drawings and slow-motion shots – that feel completely wrong for the film, as if the director is attempting to modernize the story by pandering. There are no huge set pieces, but when there is a small-scale fight or chase sequence, McGuigan overcompensates with redundant visual flourishes.

It’s refreshing that McGuigan has designed some truly horrendous-looking monsters. The first creature Victor and Igor make is a mess, stitched together with a variety of animal parts, while the iconic creature that appears at the end is a beast. The problem is that McGuigan doesn’t bring any sadness to these monsters. The creature from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” was a sad, lonely figure, but here, he’s kind of a WWE wrestler. There’s no sense of humanity or vulnerability in either of the creations. They’re more like freaks than scared, isolated monsters.

The ending turns into a bunch of noisy sound and fury. The film’s hammy villains don’t help matters, either. Their motivations are thin, and whenever they appear onscreen, you immediately want to return to McAvoy’s Frankenstein. The side characters feel like tangents; they’re not fully realized and ultimately kill the pacing of “Victor Frankenstein,” which feels sluggish despite being less than two hours long.


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