Monday, January 27, 2014
A cleverly reimagined but lightweight horror chiller, “I, Frankenstein” (*** OUT OF ****) qualifies as an entertaining, PG-13 rated, supernatural saga about the further adventures of the infamous monster. “Tomorrow, When the War Began” writer & director Stuart Beattie and “Underworld” scenarist Kevin Grevioux, who wrote the Darkstorm Studios graphic novel prequel, have forged a fast-moving fantasy that borrows from the “Underworld” franchise, “Legion,” “Priest,” “Batman,” and “Constantine.” Unlike previous “Frankenstein” films, however, “I, Frankenstein” occurs in a contemporary setting after a brief 18th century prologue. Our stitched together protagonist finds himself caught between an order of virtuous Gargoyles and wicked Demons in an apocalyptic battle for the fate of Earth. Essentially, with regard to Biblical time-lines, the action takes place after the fall of Satan. Leading man Aaron Eckhart has definitely surpassed himself not only with his chiseled, six-pack physique as the centuries old monster, but also with a haunted performance that evokes sympathy for the anti-heroic monster. Mind you, Frankenstein’s monster remains a treacherous character, rough-hewn-around-the-edges, without a twinkle in his gimlet eyes. When Eckhart isn’t striking a cool, anti-heroic pose, Bill Nighy’s nefarious villain-in-charge mesmerizes us with another polished performance. Naturally, Nighy is cast as the supreme Demon, Prince Naberius, who looks quite a sight when he shape-shifts into a Demon. Listening to this seasoned British actor deliver his dialogue with a succulent relish for each syllable is a treat in itself. Meantime, director Beattie stages several exciting entrances and exits by both the Gargoyles and our hero. Heroes and villains love to plunge through ceilings like Michael Keaton did as the Caped Crusader in the 1989 “Batman.” The close-quarters combat sequences are reminiscent of “Priest” (2011) with the monster wielding two-and-a-half foot-long sticks. The settings and the costumes imbue the action with atmosphere. “Wolverine” director of photography Ross Emery makes everything appear visually resplendent, particularly when Demons die in battle. When a Demon dies, its body glows incandescently and then erupts into fireballs.
“I, Frankenstein” picks up Mary Shelley’s classic narrative thread and then ushers its immortal monster into a contemporary setting. In voice-over narration, the grim monster provides us with all the important details about Victor Frankenstein (Aden Young of “Black Robe”) and his success with reanimating dead tissue. So disgusted did Frankenstein feel about what he had created from eight corpses and brought to life using electric eels that he bundled it up and dumped it into a river. Nevertheless, the monster managed to survive, and it murdered Frankenstein’s wife. Frankenstein pursued the blasphemous creation into the frozen wilderness, but the mad scientist succumbed to the elements before he could dispatch the monster. Afterward, the notorious Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy of “Underworld”) learned about the monster and included him in his ambitious plans to resurrect an army of Demons confined in Hell. He appoints Zuriel (Socratis Otto of “Gone”) to capture the monster after the latter has buried his creator. Two Gargoyles intervene on the monster’s behalf as the Demons challenge him at his father’s burial site. After repulsing the Demons, Frankenstein’s monster finds himself airlifted by the Gargoyles to a cathedral where he meets their matriarch. Queen Leonore (Miranda Ott of “War of the Worlds”) refuses to let her brawny second-in-command, Gideon (Jai Courtney of “Jack Reacher”), slay the monster. Instead, she names the monster “Adam.” Could anything have been less symbolic? She explains that the Gargoyles and the Demons have been waging an eternal war that mankind knows nothing about despite the high body count on both sides. At the same time, Naberius has fooled two scientists into working for his cause to replicate Frankenstein’s success with bringing the dead back to life. Naturally, Terra (lovely Yvonne Strahovski of “Killer Elite”) dismisses the legend of Frankenstein as hokum. Eventually, she comes face-to-face with reality when she meets not only Adam but also peruses Frankenstein’s journal. Mind you, “I, Frankenstein” emphasizes thrilling, athletic action set-pieces so our hero and heroine have no time to enjoy intimacy in a romantic sense. Terra spends her time sewing up part of Adam’s back when he isn’t rescuing her as a damsel-in-distress from Prince Naberius’ minions. For the record, Naberius’ chief henchman, the hulking Dekar, who speaks in a voice that sounds like it comes from the pit of Hell itself, is played by writer Kevin Grevioux!
“I, Frankenstein” is a good movie, but it suffers from several shortcomings. First, exposition dominates the action. Any time you conjure up a fantasy world, you must explain who is who and what is what. Virtually every other line of dialogue serves to explain details. Director Stuart Beattie and scripter Kevin Grevioux shoehorn in a plethora of information about whom and what into this lean and mean movie that takes up less than 90 minutes when you subtract the end credits. Incidentally, you need not sit out the end credits for fear of missing any additional scenes. Nonetheless, some of their exposition must have hit the editing room floor. For example, we are told neither how the monster acquired his superhuman strength nor his immortality. Between the times that Adam finds his creator frozen in the snow and encounters Terra, more than two hundred years have passed! Second, the visual effects are lackluster. The Demons look like they don Halloween masks when they transform and the Gargoyles look pretty hokey as they hover in flight by flapping their reptilian wings. Presumably, the $69-million budget went to other things. Happily, Beattie and Grevioux discarded everything else about the traditional Frankenstein monster’s hideous appearance from the original movies. He doesn’t have bolts protruding from his neck. He doesn’t stomp around like a sleep-walking soldier and he speaks in complete sentences. He is more like Robert De Niro’s monster in “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” (1994) because he possesses intelligence. Altogether, despite some obvious weaknesses, “I, Frankenstein” is a lot of fun to watch, and I enjoyed it so much that I saw it a second time.