Set in a dystopic present where vigilant gargoyles and ferocious demons rage in a battle for ultimate power, Victor Frankenstein's creation Adam (Aaron Eckhart) finds himself caught in the middle as both sides race to discover the secret to his immortality.
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The words "reboot" and "reimagining" are big buzzwords in the movie industry right now. It's not even a month into the year and audiences have already been treated to a "spin-off" of the Paranormal Activity
franchise and an "updating" of the Jack Ryan
character. The challenge that filmmakers face when revisiting iconic characters is that of living up to the reputation of the previous films. Sometimes, as is the case with the James Bond and Batman sagas, the new films deliver admirably, breathing fresh life into a dormant franchise. Other times, the movies fail miserably. Enter I, Frankenstein
The beginning of I, Frankenstein
finds the monster, played by Aaron Eckhart (Olympus Has Fallen
), trying to bury the body of his creator when he is attacked by a gang of demons. The monster is saved by a pair of gargoyles who take him to meet their queen, Leonore (Miranda Otto from the Lord of the Rings
movies), who rechristens him with the name Adam. Adam learns about an age-old war between gargoyles and demons that has been waging right under mankind's nose. Adam spends the next two hundred years wandering the Earth, hunting demons with some enchanted weapons that the gargoyles have given him. Now in the present day, a demon prince named Naberius (Bill Nighy, better known as Davy Jones from the Pirates of the Caribbean
movies) has contracted a scientist named Terra (Yvonne Strahovski from "Chuck") to discover the secret of corpse reanimation, a technique that he plans to use in his war against the gargoyles. Naberius figures that Adam, as a reanimated being, holds the missing piece to the puzzle. Adam is caught in the middle of the fight, with the demons trying to kidnap him and the gargoyles desperately trying to keep him out of their hands.
Yes, the plot to I, Frankenstein
is that silly; it boils down to demons and gargoyles fighting over a monster. Based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux (the Underworld
movies), the screenplay was written by Stuart Beattie (30 Days of Night
, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
), who also directs. The story is more suited for a graphic novel than a feature film, as there is hardly any arc at all, just a loose structure that meanders its way to a mediocre final showdown. I, Frankenstein
is a textbook example of telling what should be shown; every piece of exposition is spoon-fed to the audience by spoken word, whether it's through the creature's voiceover narration or another character explaining things to him in a Bond villain-esque fashion. The result is a film that, instead of being high action like it should, ends up very heavy on dialogue. And some of the dialogue is painfully awkward. A couple of examples of lines, taken directly from the movie: "you're only a monster if you behave like one" and "descend in pain, demon!" It's embarrassing enough to watch, one can only imagine how the actors felt when they had to deliver that dreck.
The Universal Monsters have never been immune to the tinkering of Hollywood, as evidenced by the nineties series of The Mummy
movies and Francis Ford Coppola's interpretation of Dracula. The big problem with tackling a canonical character like Frankenstein's monster is that comparisons to the standard - in this case, Boris Karloff's 1931 performance - are inevitable. Aaron Eckhart's monster has more in common with Robert De Niro's 1994 presentation in Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein
than it has with Karloff's legendary execution, but is still too much of a full-blown protagonist to be convincingly sold as Frankenstein's monster. The monster has always been a sympathetic character (who could not be moved by Karloff's anguished screams of fear and pain while the villagers burn down the windmill with him inside?), but to move the creature to bona-fide action hero is a stretch. I, Frankenstein
might be taken more seriously if it didn't try to play so hard on the Frankenstein mythology. However, it does, and I, Frankenstein
ends up being a pale reimagining of a classic character.
There's one thing that I, Frankenstein
has going for it; the characters do stop talking just long enough for a handful of cool fight scenes. The film has a comic book vibe, and the action sequences reflect that vibe. The fights are executed with the same slo-mo, CGI style of films like The Matrix
and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
. The actors are well choreographed, the scenes are well shot and seamlessly edited, and everything looks really slick. The action sequences are actually the only sections of the film that take full advantage of the 3D technology. It's not much fun to watch two people talk in 3D, but seeing a demon burst into flames because a gargoyle lopped his head off with an enchanted ax? That belongs in the viewer's lap. If only Stuart Beattie could have found a way to deliver all of the spoken exposition while demons are stabbing gargoyles through the heart. Maybe he's saving that for the sequel.