I’m tempted to say that it was doomed from the start with bad casting, but let me build my case before I kill the baby and toss the corpse on the pile. But really, who thought of pretty face Aaron Eckhart as the monster assembled from “dozens of parts from eight different corpses”, as he explains in the film?
My first thought when I walked out of the theater after an afternoon 3D matinee of ‘I, Frankenstein’ was that I’ll never get back that two hours of my life. Except the film is blessedly short, 92 minutes. Subtract the closing titles that 60 seconds in made it clear they ran out of budget for even interesting titles, and it’s under 90 minutes of what seems much more like a straight-to-video film than something ready for a theatrical release.
The weekend box office projections are already in, with Variety and other industry pubs already declaring it a bomb. If it breaks $7mil for total box office take, that’ll be a miracle (against production costs of $65mil), and I can say that our afternoon matinee in graphic novel and comic-adaptation crazy Boulder, Colorado, had about a dozen people total in the theater. Not a good sign at all.
The story is one you’re already familiar with because ‘Frankenstein‘ is a fascinating novel about the very essence of life. Written by Mary Shelley back in the early 1800s, the story has been repeatedly watered down with cheesy Universal monster movie productions and monster mash-up films. Of course, “Young Frankenstein” came out of the blender too, and it’s brilliant — one of the funniest movies ever made, and a special hat tip to ‘Frankenweenie’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’, both of which were also inspired by the original novel. But for every one of those is a stupid or ridiculously self-important retelling of the story like ‘Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein’ or the horribly overacted though visually enjoyable ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’.
And then there’s this film, based on a popular graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux and adapted for the screen by writer/director Stuart Beattie, who is better known for his work as co-author of the “Underworld” films. Grevioux’ graphic novels offer up a grand good vs. evil battle between gargoyles (who are forces of good created by the Archangel Michael) and demons (the spawn of Satan created when he was tossed out of heaven). This war has been going on for hundreds of years without us silly humans even noticing, and when Frankenstein’s monster (Eckhart) appears, the demon overlord, Prince Naberius (a rather dull and frankly miscast Bill Nighy) is inspired to create an army of reanimated corpses inhabited by “descended” demon souls.
After a melodramatic sequence set in the 1800s where The Monster kills a demon and meets up with the gargoyles just to learn about this epic good vs. evil battle, he splits, shunning demons, gargoyles and human company. Two hundred years later the demons find him (they really need better trackers!) and the monster, now given the name “Adam”, decides it’s time to bring the fight to them since they won’t leave him alone. So rude. These demons probably also text in the movie theater too.
Rather than have the modern scenes set in a modern city, the majority of the film takes place in a weird sort of hybrid of Batman’s Gotham and a medieval city where there are massive gothic buildings in the middle of downtown that somehow the locals don’t notice. Perhaps they’re suffering from the same mass hallucinations as the citizens were in “The Shadow”? Maybe Grevioux can explain it some day.
The real problem with this movie is that there’s no verve, no sense of fun, nothing to break up the rather unrelenting self-importance and darkness of the storyline. Even when cute-as-a-button Dr. Terra Wade (Yvonne Strahovski) is tending to a buff, shirtless Eckhart there’s not a single joke, no innuendo. And Adam? He’s already dead, so it’s not like we expect a (cough) rise out of him with Wade sitting on his bed, inviting him to come over and have her tend to his wounds.
The gargoyle army is led by Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto), who quite possibly got her scripts mixed up and thought she was hired to play the Ice Queen in a Chronicles of Narnia sequel. There must be some explanation for her poor performance in the movie, right? The toughest of the gargoyle fighters is the grumpy Gideon (Jai Courtney) and the head demon bad-ass is Zuriel (Socratis Otto), who stands around looming in his scenes and grumbles his lines with some sort of post-processing audio filter to make him sound even more gravelly and incomprehensible. When he does finally get to fight, he’s surprisingly not much of a fighter compared to old stitch-by-numbers Adam.
There are plenty of other problems with ‘I, Frankenstein’, including a somewhat incomprehensible plot, but part of what really bugged me as I watched this turkey was that the story was built around an incomprehensible war between good and evil as embodied by gargoyles versus demons, but I just didn’t care who won. For future reference, historically gargoyles were actually water spouts or drainage systems and they were mythic dragons subdued and killed by Saint Romain. So having them as angelic warriors is weird at best.
Believe it or not after all this criticism, I can enjoy a good epic or mythic battle played out across the canvas of a theatrical screen. In this case, however, from casting to storytelling, acting to sets, very little of “I, Frankenstein” works out. The fact that I’m not alone in branding this film as a bomb affirms that I’m not completely out on a limb, but regardless, I do still want my 92 minutes back. I disliked Aaron Eckhart going into the theater. Now I’m going to be even more reticent about wasting any money on another film he’s in. Your experience may vary.
But I bet it won’t.