Review: Victor Frankenstein
PLOT: In this take on the old Frankenstein story, we see the world through the eye’s of Igor. After finding the seemingly abused hunchback as a mistreated circus clown in London, Victor Frankenstein frees him from his shackles, only to enforce his own will upon the innocent assistant.
REVIEW: Perhaps my expectations were far too low. Aside from the two leads, there was little in the trailer for VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN that gave me faith in the film. It didn't bode well that we are all getting a little tired of unnecessary prequels to stories already told. However, taking in this gothic tale of man creating a monster wound up being a surprisingly entertaining ride. This stylish version of Victor and his assistant Igor is a far more clever experience than the trailers would lead you to believe. It also helps to have a couple of talented actors taking on the iconic roles and giving this gothic horror a little class. The talent on-screen elevates the script by Max Landis, and gives a little gravitas to the proceedings.
Inspired by Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” this tale is told from the perspective of “Igor” (Daniel Radcliffe). When we first meet the much maligned hunchback, he is treated horribly by his peers in the London Circus where he is relegated to playing the clown. In his spare time, he studies medical journals about the human anatomy in hopes of bettering his horrid circumstances. Things change for him after a chance encounter with a medical student by the name of Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy). After a trapeze artist named Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay) falls, the “clown” and Victor manage to save her. That only enrages the circus ringmaster who locks this poor man up in a cage. Seeing this, Victor comes to his rescue and helps create a new life for the young man who has up until then, only known aggression and fear.
If you are at all familiar with the novel or the many cinematic adaptations, you all know what this troubled twosome manage to create… Life out of death. And while this story follows a slightly predictable route, it is better than you may expect. Instead of relying on an unnecessary bevy of monsters and updating the already incredibly story, this is a tad closer to the source material than one would expect. The script attempts to stay true to the creation of life, and the horrors it brings with it, and it does so with a bit of humor. The friendship between Igor and Victor manages to offer unexpected heart. And when the two begin to take the experiments to a much darker level, it is a mostly believable transition to create the ultimate monster.
James McAvoy is a joy to watch as Victor. The actor is charismatic and delightfully over-the-top. He plays the mad scientist role with genuine emotion and a real sense of urgency and struggle. The relationship between he and Radcliffe’s Igor is the driving force behind this tale. The two actors take the material just serious enough. Sure it offers a little bit of camp, but each actor manages to give an inspired performance. You won’t see either of these fine talents up for any award recognition, but at least they treat these characters respectfully. Radcliffe, particularly in the opening scenes, creates a heart wrenching take on the sad and physically deformed man. And McAvoy, even when he is clearly abusive to Igor, seems to develop a sincere respect for his newly appointed assistant. This is a fine pairing.
Director Paul McGuigan also takes this just seriously enough with a dash of humor. At times this tends to feel a little too melodramatic which slows down the pace and lessons the tension. Still, with a daring circus escape and a better than it should be climatic end, this is a occasionally engaging film. The use of animated visual diagrams to capture Igor’s fascination with the human form is clever. And the occasional touch of magic helps give life to his own Frankenstein creation. The film avoids turning into something overtly silly most of the time and manages to create a modern gothic horror film with a few B-movie inspired set designs and a couple of creepy monsters. Again, they avoid the overabundance of creature effects. The love for Hammer Horror and the classic FRANKENSTEIN films is very clear.
VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN is an enjoyable - if more than a bit silly - take on the classic story. Even when the film tends to drag, they surprise you with an suspenseful sequence that captures your attention. Both McAvoy and Radcliffe manage to bring out the best in the script by Max Landis. And it is especially satisfying to watch McAvoy entertain in the insanely driven egocentricity of his character. It may not be a great film, but it manages to do its job and offer a couple of hours of pure escapism. Hell, I’d even be curious to see what they could do with a sequel. If you are looking for something a little different from the usual Academy Award worthy offerings this holiday season, you could do much worse than this. It may just be occasionaly hokey and dumb, but it is still a little fun.
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