Any way you slice it, I, Frankenstein is quite a few stitches shy of the classic monster. Oh, it’s not totally lacking in brains — abnormal or otherwise — and there are even a handful of not unwelcome insider references to the old Universal Frankenstein series — just enough, in fact, to make you wonder why this movie is such a stiff. It’s also worth noting that I, Frankenstein is certainly better than last week’s Devil’s Due, but then, Devil’s Due is the current benchmark for the worst of 2014. (I have no doubt that it will be eclipsed by some obnoxious hipster-bait indie ere the year is out.) For that matter, it’s almost dumb enough to be fun. If nothing else, it’s a fast-paced 92 minutes of nonstop hoo-ha that goes down more easily than those Underworld movies, which are also the brain-children of writer Kevin Grevious. Cold comfort perhaps, but comfort nonetheless. I suppose one may also take solace in the fact that its lackluster box office will likely preclude any sequels.
The film starts off with a kind of Classics Illustrated version of the Mary Shelley novel that for no very good reason — other than the film’s plot — ends with the monster (Aaron Eckhart) carting Victor Frankenstein’s (Aden Young, Killer Elite) corpse back from the Arctic to the family cemetery. There, he has a run-in with some demons, who are driven off by the arrival of some gargoyles, who are surprised to find the monster still kicking (insert “It’s alive!” reference here). This prompts them to take said monster to meet the head gargoyle in charge, Leonore (Miranda Otto). Leonore tries to enlist his aid in the centuries-old battle between good (the gargoyles who assume human and/or winged shape when not festooning buildings) and evil (the demons). Our reanimated hero will have none of it. Instead, he goes off on a marathon sulk for a couple hundred years, which he apparently spends at a gym, so that he’s one ripped monster when the demons drive him back into the world. In fact, he’s only one modern haircut away from being one scarred-up hot monster.
The bulk of all this nonsense centers on the warring factions vying for the aid or destruction of the monster — christened “Adam” by Leonore — with seemingly endless battles. The battles — much like our monster himself — are patchworks stitched together from other material. When a demon is dispatched, he descends in a fiery manner out of the Blade movies. The gargoyles, on the other hand, ascend in a blue light like something out of Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985). The head demon, played with some aplomb by Bill Nighy, has designs on using Frankenstein’s secret to reanimate a covey of corpses in order to build a demon army. (Here we see shades of Van Helsing‘s horde of vampire-babies, though why anyone would want to pilfer from Van Helsing boggles the mind.) Actually, the whole thing plays like Francis Lawrence’s Constantine (2005) — minus its sense of absurdity.
Perhaps the strangest thing of all is the fact that the film mostly takes place in some never-identified city that appears to be all but devoid of people. There are some extras in an early scene in a nightclub, and later on, a single policeman shows up. Otherwise, the entire city seems to be populated by gargoyles, demons, Adam and a couple of hapless scientists — including a love interest (Aussie TV acttress Yvonne Strahovski) for Adam. I guess that’s the only way all these spectacular CGI firework-like battles can take place without drawing undue attention, but it makes the movie feel even cheaper than it is. No, it’s not good, but I’ve seen worse and so have you. That is not a recommendation. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense fantasy action and violence throughout.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher.