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Victor Frankenstein (Movie Review)

Victor Frankenstein (Movie Review)
11.25.2015by: Jake Dee
6 10

PLOT: Upon the death of his brother, a madly ambitious young scientist named Victor Frankenstein enlists the help of a hunchbacked circus clown in order to bring the dead back to life.

REVIEW: It's been over 20 years since a major studio felt the need to give FRANKENSTEIN a big-budget revivification. Now, thanks to an all British production headed by capable filmmaker Paul McGuigan (GANGSTER NO. 1, LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN), the infamous mad doctor and his monstrous synecdoche have been given a headily entertaining high-profile facelift. And you know what, for the most part, it's a worthy experiment. Granted, as a massive tentpole undertaking, the film does inevitably suffer all the trappings of a big sweeping spectacle - too broad, overly mannered, a bit too safe, etc. However, thanks to a compelling character driven story that offers a new spin on the age old tale, strongly invested performances by its actors (McAvoy in particular), imaginatively designed and executed action set-pieces, and a staunchly withstood stance favoring science over religion, VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN more or less does the namesake proud. A long lineage no doubt, but from this vantage, the good doc is alive and well!

We're taken to an impeccably recreated Victorian era London, where we meet the soon to be named Igor (Danielle Radcliffe), a hunchbacked deformity reduced to clown-duty at the local circus. Yet, when a girl named Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay) injures herself during a trapeze act, a young medical student named Victor Frankenstein leaps out of the crowd and, with the surprisingly knowledgeable help of Igor, performs a dry surgery that saves the poor girl's life. Ever grateful if not opportunistic, Vic Frank recruits the powder-faced hunchback for his own personal gain, breaking him out of a cage and escaping the circus for good. This sets in motion a legal manhunt, with a God Fearing Scotland Yard Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott) heading the investigation. It won't be easy catching the culprit however, as Victor has given the hunchback a newly made-over identity. He lances and drains the giant boil on his back, straightens his posture with an upright back-brace, even gives him the name Igor after his last assistant, a deceased morphine addict who, as you'll learn below, gave more than his life for the cause.

Victor soon confides in Igor his plans. He believes death is, like life, only temporary. As such, he's been harvesting organs from various sources of deceased animals - chimpanzees mostly - with the sole purpose of reanimating the dead. Igor, reluctant at first, finally agrees to help Victor in return for the new lease on life the mad doctor has bestowed upon him, in addition to being granted access to the doc's state of the art facilities...medical books, tools, apparatuses, etc. It seems Igor not only lends a valuable outside eye, but somehow possesses medical knowledge that Victor does not. However, that's not all Igor has over Victor. Nope, dude has scruples. It soon comes to light that Victor had a brother whose death he was responsible for, and to make up for it, he feels the need to create life as a way to restore balance. However, when the horrendous homunculi that the pair work to revitalize - during a university presentation no less - violently attacks the entire class...a moral quagmire comes into play that cruxes the larger theme of the movie. At what price is it worth bringing the dead back to life? Is scientific advancement worth the risk of upsetting the status quo? Even if it's deemed blasphemous by some?

We'll try to refrain from any more story beats, but to me, this is where the film is at its strongest...the pitting of science vs. religion and the moral quandaries surrounding the monstrous reanimation. Victor's a complex cat...boozy, bombastic, atheistic, disapproved of by his father and desperate to atone for his brother's death. He clearly favors science over the notion of a higher power, and believes life is merely a result of applied scientific method. Pretty sobering stuff for a major motion picture. On the other side of the ledger is Inspector Turpin, who looks to discredit Victor as a criminal and heretic. He constantly evokes God and his religion as the cause of life, and lets his personal beliefs cloud his own lawful lines of order. In other words, he acts criminally on behalf of the lord just as Victor does in the name of scientific advance. Thing is, outside of gouging the eyes out of an already deceased corpse, Victor's only real infraction is just that...taking a risk. But it's a necessary one, even when the final outcome changes his own moral standings. One needs to stir the pot, rock the boat, shake things up, challenge the status quo in order to bring about scientific change. For me, this is where the movie excels, studding its spectacular action sequences with a thoughtfully meaningful moral conundrum.

Where the movie didn't work as well for me was the unfounded romantic angle involving Igor and Lorelei. After attending a high-society ball in his new digs, the once left for dead trapeze artists recognizes Igor without the white makeup and cumbersome hunch, and vows to repay him for saving her life by getting romantically involved. But it doesn't play. This needless interaction only hinders the momentum of the more compelling plotlines, not to mention brings about too austere a tone between Radcliffe and Brown Findlay. In fact, Radcliffe on the whole seems to be a bit outclassed here, especially when going head to head with McAvoy's droll and undeniably magnetic, bacchanalian demeanor...both compelling and repellant at once. James is clearly reveling in the fun, overtly comedic in spots, yet at the same time, brings heartfelt pathos in the few moments that call for it. By contrast, Radcliffe plays the part a bit too seriously, too straightforward. Perhaps that's what the script called for, and if so, then the fault lies on the shoulders of screenwriter Max Landis for not giving Igor more dimension (no pun). If not, if it were instead the choices made by Radcliffe, then it's on him. That said, for whatever it's worth, I for not a second thought I was watching Harry Potter during the film. That's a good thing!

Opining more, I think on the whole VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN is a good thing. Not a great film by any stretch, but certainly leaps and bounds better than say I, FRANKENSTEIN or DRACULA UNTOLD...recent retellings of classic monster movies. Way better! Despite having a glossily high Disney-esque production value...the kind that can tend to take you out of the picture's validity...this is a well made, consistently entertaining movie. It's made so by the compelling character driven story - less a recycle than a revision - and the principal actors giving committed, grounded performances while telling it. Moreover, the action is sufficient in its well designed and fully imagined set pieces, the pacing brisk, with gorgeous photography developed by German DP Fabian Wagner. Most notable for me however is the willingness of director Mcguigan to pit science vs. religion in a big-budget mainstream studio movie - almost as daring a chore as Frankenstein's lofty experiment itself. So, aside from a lame romantic subplot, a broad PG-13 appeal and a deceitfully rehashed finale (same outcome, different moral standing), VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN isn't as dead as you might think!

Extra Tidbit: VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN opens Wednesday November 25th.
Source: AITH

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