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Victor Frankenstein (2015)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox

Written By: Max Landis Directed By: Paul McGuigan

The Shot

Victor Frankenstein has a fair amount of style and a lot of potential, but somewhere along the line, the story and the monster get lost.  It’s just barely worth a look for classic monster fans, but there’s really no reason not to wait for “no extra cost” streaming.

The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


You could have and should have done something way better with this cheese.

Pairs Well With...


It’s supposed to be made with a zillion kinds of booze, but instead, you got the stuff made from a prefab mix.

“This… this is not life.”

I’ll start off by saying that I’m glad that I got see Victor Frankenstein in a movie theatre.  This is because I’m a classic monster fan who’s seen pretty much every take on this particular story, and I’m a sucker for it.  The very fact that a studio made the effort to put it back on a big screen makes the experience of seeing it there worth it to me.

With that said, I’m pretty sure that most of the rest of you will be just fine waiting for Victor Frankenstein to hit the “no extra cost” side of the streaming service, and this understanding makes my inner Frankenstein fan more than a little heartsad, because this story really deserves better than the creative team gave it.

Though I of course have no evidence for the following, if I had to guess, I’d say that once upon a time, someone saw Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes and thought “Hey! Wouldn’t it be great if we did the same thing with the story of Frankenstein?”  Because honestly, looking at and listening to Victor Frankenstein, the influence is obvious and the stylistic similarities are impossible to ignore.  I won’t even say that it’s a bad idea; frankly, though I’m inclined to be a little more respectful toward the source material than the director of this film has been in public, I’m very much on board with the idea of exploring different possibilities with these characters.  Unfortunately, in the case of Victor Frankenstein, those new possibilities turn out to be half-baked and buried under flat attempts to make style triumph over substance.

Victor Frankenstein starts off with a promising twist and two promising new takes on classic characters.  The twist is that the story is told from the perspective of Frankenstein’s assistant, Igor (Daniel Radcliffe, The Woman in Black), here imagined as a brilliant medical prodigy stuck living as a nameless circus hunchback until a very unlikely but not disagreeable circumstance leads to his acquaintance with brilliant medical student Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy, X-Men: Days of Future Past), who then engineers his escape in a very unlikely but not disagreeable sequence of mayhem.  Since Daniel Radcliffe is too pretty to waste, it is quickly revealed that his supposed hunchback has in fact been a fluid buildup that’s been misidentified for the past eighteen years, and one nasty siphon later, he’s back to being a straight-standing (if pale) nerdily attractive man, at which point, let’s face it, he’s Igor in name only.  Victor, meanwhile, is essentially a fast-talking, antisocial, too-smart-for-everyone-else Tony Stark clone who deals with body parts instead of electronics.  (One imagines in this instance that there’d also be cocaine involved if not for the PG-13 rating.)  His tweaked backstory could be interesting if any real depth were assigned to it, but Victor doesn’t have time for such things, and even if he did, he talks so damn fast that, well… I think you get the idea.  And so his story gets flatly told (often by others) in a series of asides that get overshadowed by his mad dog campus intellectual rants.

All the while, our two leads are pursued by an even more disturbed police Inspector (Andrew Scott, Spectre) whose story is anything but fresh; he is, alas, a dull, exceptionally uninteresting product of the heavy-handed religious moralization (absent from Shelley’s original work) invented by early Hollywood to please censors and Midwesterners.  His “they’re in league with Satan!” shtick gets old very quickly, and there’s never any real tension to the pursuit, which feels more like filler than anything.

But hey, how about that production design and those nifty inserts of anatomical drawings over live action sequences, huh?  And the snappy way that the film’s title appears on the screen in places where Victor Frankenstein was about to say his name aloud?  And the nifty Mel Brooks reference from the trailer?  You know; the Guy Ritchie stuff?  That all counts for something, right?

To be honest, it could have, and not just for suckers like myself.  Unfortunately, even though Igor from the very start assures the audience that we “all know the story,” the story we all know barely materializes.  There are no angry peasants with pitchforks; there’s just Andrew Scott’s Constable For Jesus.  No towns get terrorized; indeed, the monster, whose creation scene is rather short and anticlimactic, barely gets five minutes of screen time (if that) and never actually leaves the tower of his “birth.”  Playing a new riff on a classic story is fine, but the story’s core still needs to be there.  And the elements that make up the new riff need to be fully cooked before serving.  And hey, maybe a little soul beneath the hipster sarcasm might help, too.

Alas, the best thing that can be said about Victor Frankenstein is that none of its shortcomings can be blamed on the cast.  Radcliffe, McAvoy, and all the rest do the very best they can with what they’re given.  It is their efforts that keep the movie watchable, despite the director’s own efforts to turn a classic into a disaster.  As much as I want to encourage Hollywood to put more classic monster stories on the big screen (which one does, of course, by paying to see such things in a theatre when they do show up), they need to be better than this, and I can’t really recommend Victor Frankenstein as anything more than streaming service fodder.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, November, 2015

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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