It’s alive! Just…
It’s no good griping that Max Landis’ (Chronicle) riff on Mary Shelley’s classic text throws in backstories and a love story and a crazed chimpanzee called Gordon – cinema’s most famous Frankenstein adaptations, by Universal, Hammer and Mel Brooks, are equally patchwork affairs, as befits a source story about creating new life from ransacked body parts.
More concerning is that for all the bellowed banter, mad-eyed compulsion and steampunk set-pieces (the thunderous finale set in a cliff-top castle looks to Marvel on how to close out a picture), Victor Frankenstein rarely gets viewers’ hearts pumping, least of all with emotion.
Pitched as both an origin story and a bromance, Landis’ screenplay begins with James McAvoy’s titular scientist rescuing a scientifically minded hunchback (Daniel Radcliffe) from the circus. Draining his hump (icky) and naming him Igor (funny), Frankenstein enlists this upright young man as his assistant, the pair seeking to conjure life from death. First they animate a pair of milky eyes floating in electric jelly, then Gordon, a homunculus with a chimp’s head, and finally an oversized mishmash of a man.
McAvoy gives it his considerable all as the charming, monomaniacal, bullying Victor, and Radcliffe brings his innate likeability to the surgeon’s table, whether he’s experimenting with an accent or dropping it altogether.
Each murky frame is bursting with grime and clutter – this is cutting-edge (Victorian) science in the way Alien is futuristic sci-fi: lived-in, ramshackle, all clunk and clatter – while the novel’s key themes of obsession, rampant ambition and the perils of playing God are all present if not quite correct.
Why? Because everything is too busy, too loud, too determined to do for Frankenstein what Guy Ritchie (big screen) and Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (small screen) have done for Sherlock Holmes. Director Paul McGuigan helmed four episodes of BBC’s Sherlock but here the grafts don’t quite take. The result is far from monstrous but it's hardly divine, either.