Paul McGuigan’s Victor Frankenstein tells an origin story for literature and cinema’s most famous monster maker from the perspective of his assistant Igor (Daniel Radcliffe).
How many versions have we all seen of Frankenstein at this point? As a story it has been everywhere from Looney Tunes cartoons to the old Hammer Horror classics and big action spectacle like I, Frankenstein so you might be thinking what more can be done with this pretty short Mary Shelley book.
It’s all the rage to do prequels and reboots in the same breath these days so here we have a film that delves into the early days of Victor Frankenstein’s (James McAvoy) research into reanimating the dead. In terms of storytelling it’s fairly untapped so it’s not the worst idea in the world.
Victor Frankenstein finds Igor as a hunchbacked circus performer who spends his spare time learning everything he can about anatomy and serving as the medic for those who injure themselves as they perform. Victor notices potential in him and engineers his escape from the circus to become his assistant. After fixing his hump and posture they work together on the seemingly impossible task of realising Victor’s dream.
It’s definitely a film of two halves. The first half does a pretty good job of establishing the characters and building up the world that they live in while keeping the resurrection idea in the background as a primary motivation that doesn’t overpower the narrative.
The second half is really rushed and fails to develop the characters or ideas in any meaningful way. There’s a lot going on in the background in terms of what the film wants to be about but not enough time is devoted to anything for it to be powerful enough. Sometimes it is about the bizarre relationship between Igor and Victor Frankenstein, sometimes it is about Igor’s reaction to the situation and others it focuses on the desire to reanimate the dead. If the film had picked one of these elements to develop properly then it might have been more memorable. At the very least the ethical questions around doing what Victor Frankenstein wants to do should have been paid more than basic lip service.
I found the pacing of the film to be all over the place. The first half is well paced enough to allow the characters time to breathe but once the initial setup is done the whole thing slows down to the point that it becomes uninteresting. The mid point of the film meanders around the different story threads and feels like it pretty much stops before rushing through the fairly dull climax.
James McAvoy is great as Victor Frankenstein. He has shown a talent for taking any material and doing good things with it. Victor is eccentric yet brilliant and has an unpredictability about him that is often very entertaining to watch. McAvoy excels at playing damaged characters with a psychotic edge to them and that’s exactly what Victor Frankenstein is. He has no real defined character arc and the script loses the point of the character at some point but McAvoy gives a consistently good performance.
Daniel Radcliffe fares less well in the role of Igor. He doesn’t have an awful lot to work with as the man is a walking cliché with very little agency within the plot. It’s an interesting idea to have Igor be just as brilliant as Victor Frankenstein while even surpassing him in some ways but so little is done with it that he might as well be the lowly assistant. Radcliffe never manages to be believable in the role which counts against the film significantly considering he is the focal point of much of the narrative. The forced love story with Jessica Brown Findlay’s Lorelei fails to deepen the character in any way.
Andrew Scott takes on the villain role as Scotland Yard Inspector Turpin but his role in the overall narrative is passive at best. He seems to exist to pad out the film’s running time while offering some false threat for Victor and Igor. Scott does a good job but he’s a good actor and plays what he is given very well. I’m just not sure why the character is even in the film.
Visually the film is solid with some interesting set design and fairly grotesque effects for Victor Frankenstein’s creations. A chase sequence involving one of his abominations is a particular standout but the action climax is muddled with a lack of a solid grasp on what is supposed to be happening. I wish there had been more focus on Victor Frankenstein creating abominations from different animals as that could have provided more dynamic visual flair for the film.