Movie Review: ‘VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN’ – It’s Alive!… But Not Enough

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN | 109 min | PG-13
Director: Paul McGuigan
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, and Jessica Brown Findlay

Monsters have long been something of a fascination when it comes to the imagination. Regardless of the medium, whether it is books or movies, the audience loves to be scared by a creation; the intrigue comes from something grotesque, sure, but also from the fact that one of our own could conjure up something like this. When it comes to the classics, no other monster has been more humanized than Frankenstein’s monster.

The creation of a madman named Victor Frankenstein, the monster strives to make sense of why he’s here, his purpose for existence. From learning to speak to searching for happiness, Frankenstein’s monster is the epitome of what humans yearn for in order to survive. However, from Victor Frankenstein’s perspective, his creation is his undoing. While the Creature searches for happiness, he destroys all that makes Victor happy.

Each movie adaptation of Frankenstein revolves around this relationship, while taking liberties with some of the minor details. In VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN, however, the narrative is told from a different perspective. They take a fresh approach in revolving the story around Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) and his relationship with Victor (James McAvoy), but falls flat in accomplishing any sort of impact.

We first meet Igor as a clown for the circus, abused by the establishment and only made visible by his physical appearance. He is also in love with the aerialist Lorelai (Jessica Findlay Brown), who takes a nasty fall during her trapeze act. It is here where Igor meets Victor Frankenstein, as they save her life, and Victor notices something special in the hunchback. He takes Igor under his wing, making him an apprentice to his experiment in bringing the living back from the dead; Victor wants to create life against all science and natural law.

While conducting these experiments, the two protagonists are pursued by Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott), who has been on their trail for a murder committed at the circus. He also links Victor to various crimes of animal body parts being stolen. Furthermore, he is a God-fearing man and is worried that whatever Victor is doing will be in defiance of God. Igor realizes that things are getting too out of hand, pleading with Victor to stop what they’re doing.

Daniel Radcliffe as Igor, James McAvoy as Victor Frankenstein. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Daniel Radcliffe as Igor, James McAvoy as Victor Frankenstein. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Had VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN stuck to this, it would’ve made for something intriguing. It sets up for a story of religious obsession (Turpin) vs. scientific obsession (Victor); the conflicting characters allow for a juxtaposition with regard to their sociopathic tendencies. There’s a great shot of Victor and Turpin during an interrogation where they practically mirror each other. Furthermore, the theme of power-from-creation lingers throughout the narrative: Igor is saved, and therefore created by Victor, but doesn’t want to disturb their relationship; Victor is created by his father (Charles Dance), and cowers at the very sight of him.

All of these themes just kind of stop, as the narrative strays from the paths they carve in favor of formula. All side characters, including Turpin and a villainous benefactor named Finnegan (Freddie Fox), are just eschewed as they don’t know where to go from Victor & Igor’s relationship. The villains just kind of happen upon the viewer so there is no investment in our dislike for them. Any sort of conflict dead ends and leave the interactions of the characters as hollow. The storyline of Lorelai and Igor happens in an unnatural pace, even as she witnesses some of the abominations of Victor’s experiments.
That being said, the performances by Radcliffe and McAvoy are terrific to watch. Radcliffe plays Igor on the fine line of being a victim, but also as someone coming into being a human. McAvoy chews up the scenery as a charming madman; his outlandish craze coming with a gravitas as his life is dependent on the success of his experiments. Another enjoyment of the movie is the lush setting of Victorian-era London, as well as the practical effects used. Frankenstein’s monster is nicely done as a giant in fantastic makeup, rather than phoning it in with CGI.

All in all, VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN tries to do something different, but comes up short in where to go. The acting and effects can’t cover up the film’s flaws. Director Paul McGuigan and writer Max Landis seem to be onto something in the first half of the movie, but lose patience in getting to the reveal of the Creature. Suspense is never really created and so there’s just another story of Frankenstein, leaving the audience without a payoff. The movie is much like its monster, very cool to look at but without a soul.

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN opens today.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.