Victor Frankenstein

| March 9, 2016

To say that Victor Frankenstein (2015) did not perform well upon its initial release is an understatement. That much cannot be overlooked. Sure, I heard the negative reviews and I saw the dismal box office returns, but I’m not one to trust box office numbers and other critics’ opinions alone. But I don’t let others tell me what to like, I say in the crotchety old man voice I seem to have adopted in this review! I have to find out for myself.

And what I found when I finally sat down to watch Victor Frankenstein is that it’s not terrible. (Some review, eh?! Don’t worry. I’ll explain!) It’s got a lot of problems. That can’t be denied, and I’ll get to those. But there are a few things that save the film from utter ruin.

As a retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the film subverts our expectations in that this film is not about the creation of the monster, at least not 100%. The monster doesn’t appear until the climax of the film in fact, the result of an entire film’s explorations of two men’s relationship: the titular Victor Frankenstein himself and his assistant-turned-scientific partner, Igor. Played by James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe, respectively, the comradery between the two and their shenanigans as they perfect the process of bestowing life on homunculi carry the film for a long time. At the outset, Igor’s journey from a sheltered and bullied circus clown/medic to Victor’s scientific equal give the film an emotional core. And McAvoy’s Victor is a bombastic, pompous, and yet somehow charming madman. So long as the film is about the two of them together, the film remained amusing and engaging, even if the opening sequence is stylistically obnoxious.

The problem is that the excitement sustained by Radcliffe and McAvoy’s interactions doesn’t hold out for the entirety of the running time. About halfway through the film, a rift forms between the characters, the film slows down to a crawl, and it’s an awkward, stilted slog to the climax, pacing-wise. Structurally, it’s as though two completely different halves of a draft were jammed together—one version centered on Igor’s character journey and the other more about Victor’s. This is no more apparent than in the second half of the movie when the entirety of Victor’s motivation is revealed in a flashback to a scene that took place in the first half of the story… only we’re not shown it until near the end. It makes the drama between these characters feel pointless until the flashback reveals it to be more of an afterthought. While moving that one scene earlier in the movie wouldn’t have saved the film’s latter half entirely, it certainly would have helped.

Is Victor Frankenstein perfect? Not by a longshot. Is it great? Nah. But how many movies are? A cool premise and solid performances are enough to at least hold my attention in this age of perpetual flat, unimaginative remakes, reboots and sequels. So, as a fan of the old Universal monster movies, I found Victor Frankenstein’s character-driven approach to a familiar story (owing to the screenplay by Max Landis) refreshing and the chemistry between Radcliffe and McAvoy exciting enough to make this worth a watch at least. Victor Frankenstein is currently available on Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
Filed in: Video and DVD
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