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‘I, Frankenstein’ is put together well but nary Shelley

Aaron Eckhart in "I. Frankenstein"
Aaron Eckhart in "I. Frankenstein"Hopscotch Pictures

I, Frankenstein

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“I, Frankenstein” is a monster movie that unfortunately bears little resemblance to Mary Shelley’s classic horror story. Instead, it feels more like a hodgepodge of other action and horror films cobbled together from the past including the “Underworld” franchise, “Lord of the Rings” and “Priest”. It’s well made and has a great cast, but this January 24 frightener unfortunately, is kind of a mish-mash that ends up being mush.

The first month of 2014 has already yielded its share of less than thrilling thrillers, with the latest “Paranormal Activity” sequel and “Devil’s Due” both being disappointments (http://exm.nr/1fHjoMJ). “I, Frankenstein” has more ambition and production value to it, but if you’re expecting something close to Shelley, you’re bound to be disappointed.

Here, the creature is called Adam, and the handsome and accomplished Aaron Eckhart tries mightily to make something of a woefully underwritten part. His is a very physical performance as he fights with fists, blades and clubs, but there’s little suggestion of Shelley’s mournful outcast. They give Eckhart a lot of scars too to suggest his sewn-together appearance, but he’s still incredibly handsome and ripped with six-pack abs. His tight, parted haircut doesn’t help. At times he looks like a tan banker slumming on the weekend. But make no mistake, Eckhart’s ‘creature’ has precious little in common with the monster Shelley described as hideous, with yellow eyes and thin, pale skin (http://bit.ly/1hrbhRg).

And after breezing through the rudimentary nod to the original story in the first five minutes, the story quickly takes root in the Darkstorm Studios graphic novel narrative by Kevin Grevioux that’s been adapted here by director/screenwriter Stuart Beattie. Adam finds himself in a modern world, caught between warring factions of demons and gargoyles. The gargoyles morp from church sculpture into winged avengers to battle the devil’s minions who are out to enslave mortal mankind.

Bill Nighy costars as the head of the demon brigade and he wants Frankenstein’s secret of resurrection to create an army out of all the dead souls he’s got in storage. Miranda Otto (Eowyn from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) plays the head gargoyle that uses Frankie to get to the baddies so she can destroy their devilish plans. These two actors are frankly too good for such silly material, as is Eckhart for that matter, but at least they add passion and verve to their scenes.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast looks like background characters from “Game of Thrones” on HBO. If you’ve seen one stubbled, swarthy buck in tight leather wielding a sword, you’ve seen them all! And poor Yvonne Strahovski gets stuck with the dull role of comely scientist who gets to watch others fight when she’s not handling most of the story’s exposition. Even so, this film is only really interested in endless action sequences that prove a lot of FX companies earned their paychecks making cities fall.

I realized after about half an hour in of this only 93 minute movie, that not only was this movie not interested in any of the real themes of Shelley’s story, but also it was aimed wholly at teen gamers. It’s two-dimensional at best, even though it’s in theaters in 3-D. And the whole shebang plays like a video game with its fast action and mild, family friendly PG-13 violence. Beattie shoots that action well enough, and there’s a magisterial splendor to some of it, what with all the winged creatures flying about, but it’s hard to engage in characters that are 90% CGI effects.

At times I wondered if Eckhart and his costars were ever even in the same room together. They could have been filmed against green screen individually and then dropped into the made-up vistas later in post. That would be entirely appropriate for a movie with the word Frankenstein in its title. It’s all piecemealed together, and even though the effects look like a million bucks (actually 68 million http://bit.ly/1eZsqzO), the whole of the film is definitely less than a sum of its parts.