We all know the story of Frankenstein.
A mad scientist, driven by his obsession to create life from death, stitches together a body from parts unscrupulously obtained and, with the help of ingenuity, electricity, and a little humpback named Igor create a monster named Frankenstein. Or was it the scientist named Frankenstein? Or was it the monster named Igor, the humpback Frankenstein, and the scientist something entirely else? Either way, the monster is created, large, hulking, and mindless, and goes on a murderous rampage before, forcing the scientist named Igor or Frankenstein or nothing to put down his creation.
We all think we know the story of Frankenstein. As it turns out, however, very few parts of Mary Shelly’s novel have permeated and persisted in the cultural collective consciousness. There’s a tradition of Frankenstein that has been shaped by years of reinterpretation and reimagining, using the template of characters, themes, and allegory and rearranging, cutting, and adding to them until the mythos we have today has been formed. Victor Frankenstein carries on in this tradition, creating an entirely new Frankenstein mythology, twisting the cliches and forming them into a cautionary tale of the dangers of meddling with the natural order of things, but a story of the relationship between two men united by a single purpose.
The film starts out showing the unfortunate life of the humpbacked Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), whose development is the real focus of the film. He’s a circus sideshow, the butt of the jokes, constantly abused by the owner and fellow performers. In his spare time, when not taking kicks to the face in the ring, he pursues his first love: medicine. Through years of study, he has developed an intimate understanding of the human body and how it operates. His second love, however, is Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), a young, beautiful acrobat.
During one performance, Lorelei suffers a near fatal accident, snapping her collarbone, after her swing’s fraying rope snaps. Igor immediately rushes to her aid. Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy), who by chance happens to be at the circus, also goes to her side. Together, he and Igor reset her collarbone. Following this, Frankenstein takes an interest in Igor, wanting to take him on as an apprentice. The owner of the circus, however, won’t have that.
Frankenstein comes back to help Igor (who has since been locked in a cage) escape, a bloody affair which leads to the death of one of the circus performers. They make it through, however, and Frankenstein leads Igor back to his London loft, where Frankenstein drains Igor’s hump (which is actually just a large abscess) and employs him in helping bring a living creature back to life.
Meanwhile, Detective Rodrick Turpin (Andrew Scott) is investigating the death at the circus. He has reason to suspect that the murderer (whom he has concluded to be Frankenstein) is the same man who has been stealing dead animal parts from around the city for some nefarious purpose. He has some sort of inkling as to what this purpose is, and considers it an affront to God, and begins his journey to bring it to an end.
Victor Frankenstein is not the best film ever made, but is a whole lot of fun. We enjoyed how the film depicted the clash of religion and morals with subtlety and depth.
Screenwriter Max Landis has written an energetic and original take on the Frankenstein myth, taking the underlying components and twisting them into something both familiar and alien. The film is well paced, solidly directed by Paul McGuigan, who keeps the action going, never letting the pace sag. It also looks gorgeous, with expertly composed shots of a phantasmagorical aesthetic by cinematographer Fabian Wagner.
The cast delivers, bringing solid character work and the appropriate amount of energy necessary to make their respective characters stand out (especially on the part of James McAvoy, who perhaps bring a little too much of a maniacal presence to Victor).
Victor Frankenstein is not without its flaws. The script, while inventive, doesn’t do much to bring a third dimension to its characters, and the action and somewhat flimsy romantic subplot occasionally draws focus away from the relationship between Victor and Igor, which is the real meat of the film.
Still, in spite of its problems, the film never ceases to be entertaining, and makes for a good outing to the theater.