Victor Frankenstein (2015)
★★ / ★★★★
“Victor Frankenstein,” written by Max Landis and directed by Paul McGuigan, is only a marginally interesting reimagining of Mary Shelley’s classic novel because it largely suffers from an identity crisis. Although the story’s core in this particular interpretation is the partnership forged between a scientist and his assistant, numerous subplots are introduced eventually in which the details provided are not as interesting. As a result, when a subplot is front and center, the material’s pacing slows suddenly and we grow tired of having to wait for Dr. Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) to continue with their most macabre but fascinating experiment.
The look and feel of the picture is highly attractive. From the costumes worn by various men and women from disparate social classes outside to curious jars housing strange specimens inside the laboratory, there is always something worthy of appreciation. During the film’s less effective scenes, such as Igor’s rendezvous with a love interest, one wonders at the possibility of a straight-faced period film and how that style might translate in a story that involves bringing the dead back to life.
How Dr. Frankenstein and Igor’s partnership evolves over the time is worth examination partly because McAvoy and Radcliffe approach the material with a level of seriousness and urgency. One gets the impression that they enjoy their roles through their level of commitment, especially during confrontations where the two characters who love science must argue their ideals. Particularly note-worthy is how McAvoy portrays a scientist who is really, really into his work and a scientist who has possibly gone mad. The difference is slight but important. A lesser performer could have easily given a one-note performance.
A subplot that works—to an extent—involves an inspector (Andrew Scott) and his partner (Callum Turner), on the heels of the scientist and his assistant’s big secret. One of the best scenes involves Inspector Turpin’s visit to Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, the former highly observant and patient while the latter tries to keep a lid on the collection of body parts in the next room. The picture might have been more elegant and exciting if the screenplay had provided more opportunity for the cat-and-mouse game to evolve and flourish.
The final act is a near-disaster because special and visual effects take over—a common mistake that is easily made simply because there is budget for it. The beauty of the material is the sensitive portrayal of the “hunchback” and the man who rescued him from the circus. It is something new, an angle we have not seen from prior “Frankenstein” films. It is a colossal mistake, certainly an act of sabotage, to sweep such a unique element to the sidelines and embrace a more digestible—and predictable—way of wrapping up the story.