Victor Frankenstein is a gothic origin story and update of the classic Promethean tale that’s seen more than its fair share of transformations and resurrections over the years. From Karloff to Brooks, there seems to be an inextinguishable love for Mary Shelley’s tale of science gone mad, from Universal’s original classics to hip Hammer firms and – lest we forget – an all-time low with the trashy, yet highly enjoyable 60s B-movie Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. There’s plenty to go around!
However, this latest addition to the never-ending cadre of Frankenstein films focuses less on the monster and more on the humans behind their creations, hence the title of the film (remember Frankenstein isn’t the monster, but the last name of the doctor that created him). By adding the doctor’s first name to the film’s title the allusion is to shift focus on the doctor and the bromance between Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and his assistant Igor (Daniel Radcliffe).
Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin) and writer Max Landis (American Ultra, Chronicle) delve into the early work of Frankenstein as an eccentric medical school student on his way to becoming the stuff of legend. In a neat twist, this version is told through the perspective of Igor, a young man saddled with a terrible deformity that puts him and the budding doctor in the same universe.
As expected, this modern update follows the trend of transforming the hideous into the beautiful (think the Twilight Saga), following Daniel Radcliffe’s hunchback from nameless circus freak, caged as a sideshow attraction, to an upright and long-haired rockstar. In what I’m hoping is an desperately hoping is an homage to Tod Browning’s early classic “Freaks, the hunchback falls in love with trapeze performer Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), but let’s not focus too much on that.
Frankenstein daringly rescues the hunchback from the oppressive circus and christens him Igor. Funny thing, it turns out that his hunchback deformity was due to a massive abscess that just needed draining. No longer a grotesque being, the artist formerly known as hunchback can function in society and aids young Frankenstein towards infamous success.
This one is definitely not a Van Helsing (2004) retread, thankfully, although it nearly borders on Stephen Sommers’ terrible monster mash-up with its superfluous use of CGI. Its best asset is James McAvoy, who gives his all with a solid performance as the ambitious and eccentric mad scientist-to-be.
Victor Frankenstein is an amusing monster movie whose whole purpose is to merely entertain, and does this well. I was actually surprised by the film’s entertainment value, though to expect more is simply to discredit the whole point of these type of films. With all its glitz and glamour it feels like a B-movie trapped in the money fueled shell of big budget Hollywood excess: a ton of good ideas lost in the whole money making business. Nothing more, nothing less.