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I, Frankenstein Review: A Lifeless Corpse
Let’s just get this out of the way: I, Frankenstein will probably never win any awards. If I had the power to craft highly specific Oscars for bad movies, however, I’d likely award it one (or all) of these three: Most Excessive Use of Expository Dialogue, Most Illogical Plot, or even Biggest Cast of Unlikable Characters. Yes, it’s clear from the get go why I, Frankenstein was released in the dead of January, because it has little value other than being filler for Worst of 2014 lists come this December.
I, Frankenstein takes the shambling, oafish, and misunderstood monster we all know so well and attempts to give him a jolt (see what I did there?) of grit and realism by injecting him right into the middle of an eternal war waged between the demon hordes of hell and the sacred…Gargoyle Order…of Heaven. The fact that the seeming “good guys” are an Order of Gargoyles instead of a logical consistency like, you know, angels should serve as a pretty good indicator of what you’re going to get from this film.
With the demon Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy) seeking to use Frankenstein (Aaron Eckhart) to learn how to reanimate corpses in order to unleash an army of demons upon the Earth, it’s up to Frankenstein, his sexy scientist friend Terra (Yvonne Strahovski), and a group of poorly-rendered CGI gargoyles to save mankind.
It’s a completely rote and ridiculous plot that fails to either have fun or ground itself in reality, instead ending up in that awkward middle ground where its attempts to reach a sense of epic proportion is hindered by its inability to tell any sort of coherent story or venture away from tired action cliches.
The characters are by far the film’s weakest link. Used merely as one-note vehicles to deliver needlessly expository dialogue meant to drive the narrative forward, the utter failure to connect any of them to the audience results in a completely unlikable cast whose sacrifices, decisions, and endings never resonate past the surface. Their delivery is boring, their motivations are vapid, and the decisions they make are neither surprising nor particularly interesting. They’re completely interchangeable, and the ridiculous costume design and effects used for each of these characters made them feel like they were ripped straight out of a terrible Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers episode in 1995.
I’d almost be able to excuse the pathetic cast of characters had Frankenstein (or Adam, as he’s sometimes called) been a compelling character, but even the protagonist was as lifeless and shambling as his own body. The film frequently touches on the idea of what it means to be human or to have a soul, but tears itself away in honor of some stupid cliche before anything meaningful can be said. Adam himself has no personality, weaknesses, or redeeming traits, and even the science of his existence is never explored or explained. How is it that a man who is essentially a patchwork quilt of human corpses is A) nearly super-human, B) able to survive for centuries, C) incapable of showing any emotions other than anger, rage, and madness, and D) able to heal, lest he functions like a normal human? Is he normal? This is never really explained, and we’re instead left to drawing our own conclusions that will likely contradict themselves.
There’s also one throwaway line that suggests Dr. Victor Frankenstein used electric eels to supply the jolt needed to bring his monster to life. Now, I am no expert in Frankenstein lore, but I am curious as to how a man who had never encountered electricity in his life would know how to harness it, how much voltage to use, and would even have the insight to employ its use in the first place.
That’s not where the logical issues end, either. The demon hordes are hellbent on destroying humanity, but only about five humans are seen in the entire film. The Gargoyles live in an ornate cathedral whose importance is never explained, and the building is left standing in pristine condition even in our modern age. The demons know of the cathedral and are aware of the fact that the Gargoyles live there, but the Gargoyles don’t learn about the demon’s hideout until ten minutes before the film ends. This movie takes place in a modern setting for absolutely no reason other than to supply us with the tech necessary to reanimate a corpse, and thereby skips over any possibly interesting or comedic bits that could have given us an idea of how these spiritual creatures engage life in the modern day. Also, the demons upgrade to the modern age by decking themselves out in suits that make them look a bit like the baddies in the Matrix, while the Gargoyles choose to wear hauberks and armor ripped straight out of Spartacus and Xena: Warrior Princess. Plus, all the other characters on screen look presentable, while Frankenstein perpetually dons a filthy look as if he took a dust bath before the start of every scene. For a corpse riddled with sutures and incisions, you think he’d want to keep himself sanitary and free from infection. You’d be thinking wrong, though. Also, why is it that wars between heaven and hell are always fought with traditional weapons like swords, knives, and (in this case) sticks? Wouldn’t guns enter the equation at any point in modern time?
I could continue to rattle off plot issues for an entire article, but it’s important to highlight its most grievous errors in order to help you, dear reader, understand how clumsy and thrown together this entire movie is. Nothing makes sense, no one is likable, and even though I’m a big fan of the interactive medium, the entire thing plays out like a video game in the absolute worst way. Truly, the action sequences could have existed as a playable fight with ridiculous cutscenes sprinkled in for exposition, and even boss fights make their appearances in the form of big baddies hunting down our undead hero. In fact, if ever there was a movie that would have been better off as a video game, it’s I, Frankenstein.
Perhaps the visuals themselves would have even been better in the form of a video game. This film relies heavily on a drab color scheme consisting of brown, grey, and blue tones to serve as a backdrop for the garish and excessive use of CGI that dominates the majority of the film’s screen time, and poor visual presentation is complemented well with sound design meant to molest your eardrums at its loudest moments. It’s cringe worthy in every sense of the phrase, making this film one of the more unbearable CGI-fests of late.
The most disappointing part of I, Frankenstein is the fact that, deep down, there really are some interesting elements that could have made for an interesting film. Strip away the terrible dialogue, make the cast endearing and interesting, tone down on the over-the-top melodrama and action, and this really could have been a passably mediocre time at the theater. Instead, we’re treated to a 93-minute slog full of terrible dialogue, weak narrative, unlikable characters, and a largely throwaway experience I’ll likely forget altogether in a matter of months.