It’s fashionable to despise movies like I, Frankenstein, the newest entry in a series of supernatural action thrillers typically released immediately after the awards season. I have to admit, I’m baffled by the persistent hostility. Why are critics and audiences so reluctant to accept such movies? Are they afraid that they might actually enjoy themselves? Or do they honestly expect something more than escapist entertainment? We should never be afraid to embrace simple, uncomplicated, goofy fun, which is exactly what I, Frankenstein is. And unlike intelligence-insulting garbage like the Transformers saga or the Expendables films, it has the decency to not condescend to the audience by taking itself seriously, nor does it aspire to blind us or make our ears bleed.
Adapted from the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, this delightfully preposterous movie, presented in glorious IMAX 3D, utilizes all the stylistic approaches that should by now be instantly recognizable. Visually, these would include the juxtaposition of ancient architecture in contemporary structures, mythical creatures of old inhabiting modern-day settings, and fight scenes in ruined or abandoned areas, such as warehouses. You can count on one hand the number of scenes set during daylight hours; the overwhelming majority of the film takes place at night, and from behind a veil of heavy gray clouds shines a bright, full moon that bathes a cityscape drenched in moisture. And, of course, there are the special effects, which is to be expected in any story that involves not only Frankenstein’s Monster, but also gargoyles and demons.
The Monster, here named Adam (Aaron Eckhart), has been in the middle of a war between gargoyles and demons for centuries. Naturally, it’s a war in which mankind itself hangs in the balance – although it’s interesting how few actual human beings are seen in this movie. It might help to know that gargoyles, who alternate in appearance between winged creatures of the night and regular-looking people in ancient costumes, are the good guys; when slain, they transform into an ethereal blue light that ascends to heaven. Compare this to the evil demons, who also alternate in appearance; when struck down, they turn into an orange fireball that descends to hell. It’s not adequately explained how it is immortal beings came to be on Earth in the first place, or why they can’t return from above or below once their bodies are destroyed, but then again, is an explanation really needed?
Adam is, to the best of my knowledge, the only creature built from human corpses to have the fighting skills of a stunt coordinator and the abs of a bodybuilder. He’s covered with scars, and yet they somehow only make look even more handsome. Be that as it may, because his creator was a man rather than God, he lacks a soul. This is part of the reason why the demons want him; the dark prince Naberius (Bill Nighy), who masquerades as the head of a medical research institute, has orchestrated an evil scheme to summon forth his demon minions and have them possess soulless human corpses, creating an army capable of taking over the world. They also want Adam because he might be in possession of Victor Frankenstein’s journal, the only document capable of explaining how to reanimate dead tissue.
Adam, immortal presumably because he lacks a soul, is a bitter loner type who continues to despise his long-dead father, mistrust all of mankind, and long for another creation like him. Despite this, Leonore (Miranda Otto), an angel sent to Earth to lead the gargoyles in their fight against the demons, is moved by Adam, sensing within him the potential to gain a soul. At the same time, she’s aware of the dangers brought on because of his existence. Should she help humanity by eliminating this threat against it, per the suggestion of the gargoyle warrior Gideon (Jai Courtney)? Or should she allow Adam to live? The opportunity for him to gain a soul comes in the form of Terra (Yvonne Strahovski), a scientist specializing in experimental reanimation. She has been hired by Naberius, unaware that he wants her to expedite his scheme.
Given the ridiculous, practically B-movie nature of the story, perhaps it was nothing more than a happy accident that the Adam character ended up vaguely Christ-like. He was, after all, created outside the laws of natural conception, and by fighting against demons, he is, in effect, humanity’s savior. Or perhaps I’m overthinking this. Indeed, I have no real defense for I, Frankenstein, apart from the fact that I simply had a good time watching it. When you consider the millions spent making it and the willingness to release it, with the knowledge that it completely flies in the face of edification, it represents an act of audacity. Of course, I say this under the assumption that there exists any audience that wants to be edified by every single movie it sees. If you ever come across such audiences, pity them. They obviously don’t know how to have fun.