When it comes to Victorian era monster stories Hollywood seems to only have two tones, comicy (as in comic book like) like the vastly hated but actually serviceable Van Helsing or deadly serious drama as in, to keep the same vein (pun intended) Bram Stoker’s Dracula. You can usually tell by the trailers what side a film is going to go on, that’s really enough for most people. However if you’re like me the chance for enjoyment is equal if not a little different. Victor Frankenstein isn’t really sure where it is with tones that match both sides but with the more animated tone winning out. I shouldn’t really have to recap a story so ingrained in our social conscience, but I do and I’ll explain why. Changes, oh changes, and novel worthwhile changes at that. Igor is our hero this time around with the story told from his perspective…seriously, how hadn’t anyone thought to spotlight one of the most interesting side characters in the history of horror, take that Renfield! Victor (James McAvoy) happens across Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), who’s a self-taught surgeon working as a circus clown when Igor saves the life of his crush (seriously, I need a thesaurus that’s the best I could come up with?), needing an assistant Victor takes notice, fixes his hunchback, and away we go.
There’s a lot to like about this film and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Andrew Scott’s Inspector Turpin. The actor, who got his star making turn as Moriarty on the BBC series Sherlock is quickly becoming one of the most oddly loved actors on the planet. The character of Turpin, which basically replaces the mob holding torch’s and pitchforks, brings in what has always been the main moral questions in Mary Shelly’s eternal story, should man play God? This question of religion is not hidden in Max Landis’s script as Frankenstein makes his atheism very clear several times and Turpin his religious feelings. My earlier comparison to Van Helsing was a bit off I realize as the Victorian England setting really gives more of a Sherlock Holmes feel in terms of look, which obviously is a ringing endorsement for the look of the film and the action can be just as slick as the aforementioned blockbuster. McAvoy as Frankenstein is something to see…it is quite possibly the hardest thing to do in acting to convincingly overact, put simply to play a mad scientist without making it laughable. Think of the original “IT’S ALLIIVVVEE”…classic, right? Then let’s look at another classic scene dealing with the same kind of performance, William Shatner as Captain Kirk yelling “KHHHAAAANNNN!!!”, yes still classic but undeniably laughable. Thankfully McAvoy rides the feel of the former giving a great performance as the world’s most well known mad scientist. Radcliffe’s Igor is the lynchpin of the movie and though his character arc is a major letdown, his performance shows someone who’s truly taken off those Harry Potter glasses.
So why was Igor’s performance a letdown? Mainly because the love story between he and Lorelai (the acrobat he saved when Victor found him) is lame, for lack of a better term. I would have much preferred a bromance movie with the traditional dynamic between him and the doc then the forced dilemma Igor is put into. The only other real problem is the monster. Yes, yes, I know Frankenstein is the doctor not the monster, one of the most confused things in history perhaps, but come on! If I tell you I’m going to show you a movie about Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park you still want to see some rad T-Rex action, no? The monster doesn’t come into play until halfway through the third act and that’s when it turns from a Sherlock Holmes looking film to feeling more like Van Helsing. Not a game changer for me but it was disappointing.