Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, first published almost 200 years ago, has undergone a number of filmed presentations, from Universal’s 1931 classic with Boris Karloff as The Monster, to Hammer’s gothic version starring Christopher Lee, to Kenneth Branagh’s tale featuring Robert DeNiro. Most have followed the original story of how Frankenstein’s monster came into being and its/his struggle to deal with what life brings while being misunderstood by others. The latest incarnation is I, Frankenstein, and it uses Shelley’s novel merely as a starting off point for a new and wildly original action-packed adventure.
The film begins in 1795, where Dr. Victor Frankenstein creates the titular monster (Aaron Eckhart). However, he is appalled by his creation and discards it, leaving it for dead. But the creature survives and takes revenge, leading Dr. Frankenstein to follow it into the Arctic, where he succumbs to the harsh conditions that don’t affect his ‘offspring.’ While burying his maker, Frankenstein’s monster is attacked by demons but rescued by a pair of gargoyles. (It’s here that we hear the iconic, “It’s alive!”) As the monster is taken to the gargoyles’ queen (Miranda Otto), and dubbed ‘Adam’, he learns of a centuries old war between the gargoyles and demons. But it’s a war he wants no part of, so he leaves and roams the Earth for over 200 years, battling demons along the way. As we move into present day (or near-future), ‘Adam’ is ultimately drawn into this longstanding war as the demons need him to help unlock the secret to creating life. Employing an ‘electrophysiologist’ (which certainly sounds cool), played by Yvonne Strahovski (Sarah, from NBC’s Chuck), the demons are determined to achieve their goal. And led by Naberius (Bill Nighy), that goal of creating life may just have a more nefarious purpose that could spell the end of mankind.
There is so much to like about I, Frankenstein, starting with the script which places Frankenstein in the middle of an ancient and ongoing battle between two immortal races. And though it has always been more correct to refer to him as Frankenstein’s monster, the movie makes the point that because he is a creation of his ‘father’, Dr. Frankenstein, he thusly takes the name too. He’s also not a monster anymore, though he does sport a few facial scars and has inhuman strength, but is rather an intelligent, soft-spoken individual who carries a couple of mean, demon-slaying sticks. And while a war between two supernatural races isn’t new, certainly pitting living gargoyles against demons is. In fact, this movie is based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grievioux, who has had a hand in the Underworld series as both a writer and actor, and has a role as Naberius’ right-hand man in this as well.
Bringing the story into the present day (we never learn exactly what year or country we are in) enables the filmmakers to add more of a science-fiction slant as the scientists use modern technology in their attempts to create life. The dialogue, whether speaking in scientific terms or fantasy elements, never sounds hokey. (I did miss hearing the line from the trailers which served as an homage to the Hammer film, “Frankenstein must be destroyed!”) In discussing Dr. Frankenstein’s journal, the gargoyle queen stresses that its importance lies in its ability to show that God is no longer the sole creator of life. That’s a rather lofty ideal, which underlies the strength of Mary Shelley’s original work, as well as this production.
The cast is top-notch. Aaron Eckhart is equally adept at portraying a tormented man without a soul, as well as a powerful, demon-stomping bad-ass. The beautiful Yvonne Strahovsky brings depth to her role as a passionate and dedicated scientist and Bill Nighy gives his billionaire mogul a gleefully evil spark. And genre fans will get a kick out of seeing The Road Warrior’s gyro captain, Bruce Spence, as a fellow scientist. The action and fight scenes are thrilling and the visual effects are state of the art. The CGI works really well, especially showing the gargoyles seamless transition from winged beast to human form. Bringing all this together is director Stuart Beattie, who does a terrific job at keeping the story moving. Most movies tend to have a few dead spots where the story slows down, but ironically, this movie whose lead character is made up of dead parts, has none. It is never boring for an instant, but rather thoroughly compelling from beginning to end.
The story of Frankenstein searching for who he is and attempting to find out his purpose on this Earth is something everyone can relate to. We all need a reason to live and some people spend a lifetime looking for it. I, Frankenstein offers a fresh, new take on this 200 year old story with an action-packed, horror/sci-fi spectacular. And we, the Gore 4, highly recommend it as a welcome addition to the Frankenstein legend.