Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Better Than Expected, Victor Frankenstein Fleshes Out The Dark Allegory Of Frankenstein Well!

The Good: Performances, Character, Special effects
The Bad: Underdeveloped romance plot, Predictable plot
The Basics: Victor Frankenstein retells Frankenstein from an engaging new perspective!

It seems like every year since Once Upon A Time hit the airwaves, there are film re-imaginings of popular fairy tale or horror icons. Last year around this time, Dracula Untold (reviewed here!) attempted to fill that niche; this year, it is Victor Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein is yet another retelling of Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein and is this year's horror vehicle for Daniel Radcliffe. Radcliffe has been working to get as far away from the role of Harry Potter as he can, while still finding works that appeal to the genre fanbase that made him a worldwide celebrity. To that end, Victor Frankenstein is a fairly good choice for him.

Victor Frankenstein casts Radcliffe as Igor, opposite James McAvoy in the title role. The story is essentially Frankenstein from Igor's perspective and focusing on the young scientist Victor Frankenstein, as opposed to focusing on the monster he inadvertently created. The film works to establish much more in the relationship between Victor and Igor than the science or the morality of the monster and that makes for an interesting take on the well-known story.

Opening with Igor as a hunchbacked clown for a traveling circus, Igor becomes fascinated by how the body works and assists the circus's doctor. Igor is infatuated with the trapeze artist Lorelei and when she falls from the trapeze one night, Victor Frankenstein is in the audience and he is impressed with how Igor quickly diagnoses and treats her injuries. Frankenstein offers Igor an escape from the circus. Frankenstein drains the abscess that has plagued Igor for eighteen years, straightens his back, and offers him a chance to become his assistant. The London Inspector, Turpin, begins an investigation of the escape, while Igor acquaints himself with Victor Frankenstein's lab.

Igor is horrified when he goes out into London and finds that Frankenstein is wanted for murder, but he gives the scientist a chance to explain his perspective. Igor begins working with Frankenstein on his Lazarus device. When they go out to a party together, Igor has to make up for Frankenstein's boorishness when they encounter Lorelei there. Returning to the lab, Victor reveals to Igor that the projects Igor have been working on have been assembled into a living being. Presenting the homonculus to a pathetically small audience, Frankenstein surprises everyone by delivering upon his promise to create life. The chimp-based homonculus escapes and has to be subdued by Igor and Victor. Finnegan, who doubted Frankenstein's technology, hires the scientist to resurrect a dead person for him and Frankenstein agrees, over Igor's objections. While Igor and Lorelei grow closer, Frankenstein becomes obsessed with his experiments and Inspector Turpin works to stop Frankenstein.

Victor Frankenstein is one of the few films in recent memory that has appeared to absolutely bomb and I'm at a loss to understand exactly why. For sure, it was released in proximity to the final movie in The Hunger Games Saga, which meant it was bound to get overlooked. And, for sure, the story is predictable, but . . . it's not like people who made the Harry Potter Saga or The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy box office smashes didn't know where the stories were going.

Victor Frankenstein fleshes out the familiar story with some entertaining false starts and characters who are more than just generic mad scientist and comical sidekick. To that end, Igor is well-played by Daniel Radcliffe. Radcliffe is able to make Igor into an intriguing character who is fleshed out with his own motivations and a sense of romance that is appealing. Radcliffe breathes life into a role that usually is that of a sidekick and the only truly unfortunate aspect of it is that Igor has to be straightened into a dashing young man that looks like Daniel Radcliffe before he can catch the eye of Lorelei.

Despite the perspective of Igor dominating the narrative, Victor Frankenstein is absolutely ruled by the acting talents of James McAvoy. McAvoy hinted at the potential to play dark and unsettled in X-Men: Days Of Future Past (reviewed here!), but in Victor Frankenstein, he truly lets loose. McAvoy plays Frankenstein as twitchy and obsessive in one of his most expressive roles to date. He plays off Charles Dance in their brief scenes together and McAvoy's active eyes contrast brilliantly with Dance's stone-cold facade. McAvoy and Radcliffe play off one another exceptionally well, with Frankenstein and Igor becoming a genius team that is very easy to watch and appreciate.

As one might expect of a period fantasy film, the costumes and special effects are of tremendous importance to Victor Frankenstein. The costumes look incredible and when the visual effects are focused on long enough, they are impressive enough to augment the story well.

Ultimately, Victor Frankenstein works as a well-developed character study and showcases the talents of two great talents in a way that they have not previously been able to. But the romantic subplot and religious fanaticism of Turpin might turn off an audience just looking for a generic monster movie. Victor Frankenstein is not that and, as a result, it works far better than most monster flicks.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
Bleeding Heart
Hotel Transylvania 2


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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