Saturday, February 8, 2014

Clash Of The Gargoyles And Demons: I, Frankenstein Is Entirely Campy!

The Good: Acting is generally good, Special effects are fine
The Bad: Dull plot, Unimpressive action sequences, Messy concept, Light on character development
The Basics: I, Frankenstein is a rework of Underworld which sloppily puts the Frankenstein monster in the middle of a war between gargoyles and demons.

When a film is released tells a lot about what the distributors and movie studios think of the project. As sad as it is to say, when a studio believes an a genre film (fantasy, science fiction, action/horror) it does not release the project during award’s season (which is where we are now). When I first heard that Aaron Eckhart was going to lead the fantasy/action (it’s not scary at all, so “fantasy horror” does not apply at all) film I, Frankenstein, I was pretty psyched. There is, in my estimation, very little Eckhart cannot successfully tackle as an actor. When I heard that I, Frankenstein was slated for a late-January release, I just felt bad for Eckhart; clearly this was a film that the studio was not banking on (or else they would have carved out a niche for it during Summer Blockbuster Season or at least waited until March – following the February Slump – to try to give it a better chance at box office success). Having now seen it, I, Frankenstein suffers on so many fronts that it is not at all surprising that the studio and distributors did not give it a fair shake. What is amazing is that the movie was made at all.

I, Frankenstein is Underworld (reviewed here!) recast. Trading out a death dealer for the Frankenstein monster, viewers are given the story of an age-old war between two supernatural powers. Instead of vampires and werewolves, which was the story in Underworld, I, Frankenstein features gargoyles and demons. I, Frankenstein feels familiar for anyone who is a fan of genre films and while it plays the story much safer than Constantine (reviewed here!), the very fact that the usually-wonderful Bill Nighy is cast as Naberius (which is essentially this film’s version of Viktor) illustrates a profound and problematic lack of imagination on the part of director Stuart Beattie and Lakeshore Entertainment.

In the late 1700s, Dr. Victor Frankenstein successfully creates a new life form from corpses cobbled together. Stronger, faster, and without any noticeable human deficiencies, the creature feels betrayed by Frankenstein and he kills the doctor’s wife and lets the doctor hunt him until the human freezes to death. After burying his creator, Frankenstein’s creation is attacked by demons and rescued by gargoyles. The queen of the Order Of The Gargoyles, Leonore, names the entity Adam and asks Adam to help the gargoyles in their fight against the demons. Adam refuses and runs off.

Pursued for 200 years by the demons, Adam returns to the world of man where he finds the war between the demons and gargoyles is still going on. Under the direction of the evil demon Naberius, Dr. Wade is unwittingly replicating the experiments of Dr. Frankenstein to bring life to dead bodies. When the gargoyles recapture Adam, the demons seize the opportunity to mount an attack that has the apparent goal of capturing Adam, though Leonore is their true target. Attempting to trade Leonore for Dr. Frankenstein’s journal, Naberius tries to get Dr. Wade all the information she needs to create an army of living vessels for the fallen demons killed over the eons. Adam has reason to recover the journal himself and his hopes, too, rest on Dr. Wade as he seeks to gain the mate promised to him hundreds of years before.

In addition to the casting, which makes the movie seem even more familiar, I, Frankenstein suffers from severe conceptual problems. The nature of the demons hiding on Earth in plain sight is not made nearly clear enough. They look human and yet have the ability to transform to full demon form upon demand. When they are killed, they explore in an orange column of light and descend (the gargoyles die by a similar mechanism, save it’s blue and they ascend). But the premise of I, Frankenstein is that Naberius needs flesh automatons to bring back all the previously-descended demons. But if the demons did not have that technology to begin with, what are the demons who look like humans to begin with?!

The gargoyles are not sufficiently explored to be interesting at all. Are they actually stone during the day and only animated at night? Or are they entirely organic, though immortal, heavenly beings? I, Frankenstein doesn’t bother to clearly define them.

The romantic relationship between Adam and Dr. Wade is obvious and feels very much like the relationship between the death eater and werewolf in Underworld. Instead of working so hard to set up a sequel or franchise – which the film does when Naberius pointedly mentions that Dr. Wade’s facility is not the only one he has working on the reanimation process – or presenting hero shots that make significant chunks of the movie feel like they were made for the trailer alone, it would have been nice to see writer and director Beattie develop the relationship more. Instead, Adam and Wade are thrown together because Adam saves Wade and Wade is the film’s resident Available Blonde.

Sadly, Wade is not even given enough character to be an interesting damsel in distress. She’s not stupid or needy, but she is a virtual nonentity. For milliseconds early in the film, I, Frankenstein seems like it might be smart enough to challenge the paradigm and pair Adam with Leonore, but like so much of the movie, I, Frankenstein treads toward the obvious and familiar. Even the fight sequences are dull. Ever since The Matrix (reviewed here!), directors seem obsessed with slow motion battle scenes that lack immediacy and promote style over realism.

Adam gives exposition that reveals all the viewer truly needs to know about him and it’s troubling how little else there is to the character. Adam is supposed to be coming into his own over the course of I, Frankenstein, but the way the character is buffeted around, it seems like little more than his own attempt to survive than an actually realized series of epiphanies. Dr. Wade is given less character and Leonore and Naberius are monolithic archetypes rather than truly realized characters.

That said, despite all of the issues with character and plot, the acting in I, Frankenstein is fine. Bill Nighy does not give viewers anything he has not given viewers in the past and Miranda Otto’s role of Leonore is so lacking in substance that she is not given the chance to shine, so most of the film rests on the star power of Aaron Eckhart. In the film’s opening scenes, Eckhart is entirely unrecognizable as the Frankenstein “monster;” throughout the film, he becomes more and more recognizable despite the fact that his face is scarred for the role. Eckhart does not play off his natural charisma as Adam and he is bulked up for the role, but I, Frankenstein basically has him in the role of troublingly monolithic action hero.

In the end, I, Frankenstein is a predictable flop and its loose ties to other fantasy action films make it seem all the more mundane.

For other science fiction action movies, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek Into Darkness
Minority Report


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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