Thursday, November 26, 2015

Victor Frankenstein

I must say that I am genuinely surprised that I liked this one as much as I did, even if in truth I don't like it that much. It was sort of a "oh, MoviePass won't let me buy 3D tickets even though it shows them" substitute for The Good Dinosaur.

I wound up liking parts of it quite a bit, though. It's a mess in most places, but the ideas being played with are worthwhile, and it's one of the best James McAvoy performances I can remember, especially surprising given that my impression from the (terrible) previews was that even when playing the manic, over-the-top character, McAvoy still doesn't really make an impression. He's better in the movie where he's allowed to be legitimately arrogant rather than just cocky. McAvoy does arrogance well - his best work in the X-Men movies is when Charles is at his most hubristic as well - but that's not exactly the quality that gets people into theaters.

One thing I'm still curious about (though I care less than I did before sitting down, as I liked the result just enough to think of it on its own terms as opposed to for how it relates to something else) is how Universal, with their upcoming Universal Monsters shared world, really intends to stake their claim when anybody can come along and make something like this. Do they want a Frankenstein (doctor or monster) in that series so close to this thing's release? Given that their entire plan for an answer to the Marvel Universe is cobbled together out of characters in the public domain (Dracula, Frankenstein) or vague concepts (wolf-men, mummies), they're uniquely set up to have things diluted unless they start really enforcing that certain designs are theirs. They don't seem to be doing that much - this movie's monster is very Karloffian, and Hotel Transylvania is probably on a fine line between parody and actionable infringement. Granted, those things should all be in the public domain anyway, along with Superman, Batman, and probably at least Captain America, but given that they're not, I'm not sure why Universal didn't sic lawyers on this one, with the Monsters being a fair part of their future plans.

Anyway, I don't know if I can really recommend this - it's got some good ideas but never gets enough right at once to be really good. I enjoyed bits, though, and that's a bit more than I was expecting.

Victor Frankenstein

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 24 November 2015 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

My expectations weren't high for Victor Frankenstein; the preview made it look like the very worst example of Hollywood trying to make evening younger, sexier, and more action-packed imaginable, and I had something more extensive to that effect outlined in my head even before sitting down. Those problems are there in the actual film, to a frustrating extent, but it is at least ambitious enough to be interesting, which is a rather pleasant surprise.

The screenplay by Max Landis draws far more directly from the classic Universal film than the novel by Mary Wollstencraft Shelley, and is told from the perspective of "Igor" (Daniel Radcliffe), who starts out as a nameless, bent-over, and abused circus clown before medical student Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) sees him think quickly to treat a critically injured trapeze artist (Jessica Brown Findlay). Victor spirits him away to his apartments, where he quickly straightens out the misdiagnosed "hunchback" and tells him to use the name of Victor's absent flatmate should anyone ask. Igor process an excellent partner as Victor attempts to reanimate dead tissue, although he has some qualms - and disapproving Scotland Yard Inspector Roderick Turpin (Andrew Scott) is following their trail of mayhem.

As someone who loves Frankenstein the novel and tends to judge adaptations on how closely they stick to that, a lot of the choices made to reconfigure the story seem misguided at first, with the massive reduction of the Monster's role basically ripping or the heart of the story and its themes of how a creator (or parent) is responsible both for his creation and to it. With that the case, the lack of a fiancée and a different relationship with his family might as well come next, as he doesn't need to retreat to their normality. In some ways, that makes recasting Frankenstein as a Victorian Brit and giving the look of things a push in the direction of steampunk merely cosmetic, although the almost casual way Igor is quickly remade as a good-looking partner verges on bad parody, despite the character originating in the films. The addition of an untrustworthy benefactor is boring a later cliché onto a classic story that wasn't missing it.

Full review on EFC.

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