Victor Frankenstein is a kinetic, if uneven nod to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Drawing inspiration from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, there is action a-plenty beginning first in a circus and ending with much lightening and screaming in Scotland.
There’s even a hunchbacked clown.
Daniel Radcliff is a nameless freak among ignorant circus folk. An astute closeted student of the medical arts, his unfortunate deformity makes him an outcast and focus of all manner of abuse. Of course he is kind and thoughtful, and accepts his place in society – “I’m getting the crap beat out of me, so it must be Thursday” – otherwise the audience wouldn’t have a sympathetic character to relate to. By circumstance of fate and Providence, we meet James McAvoy’s Victor Frankenstein and before too many chase sequences, they are partnered: the clown and the mad scientist. The clown’s intellect (he has a knack for innards) is matched by Frankenstein’s’ creative leaps of genius (he has cloudy liquids and a basement), and together they set about shaping nature to the will of Modern Man. They will play God. The clown is totally okay with this.
Victor Frankenstein is not a mentally well man, and a lot of his soliloquies are expressed with much frothing and rolling eyes. His has a tragic past (as tragic as rich people can experience anyway) and he’s generally misunderstood and dismissed by his peers and family. We’re led to believe this is very hard for him. Saving the clown was just the first step on his own road to redemption, though with every acquisition and success, his savior streak is more a push down the road to deification. Frankenstein is totally okay with this.
On the opposing team is one religiously fanatic Inspector Turpin, played with fervor by Andrew Scott, who is no stranger to characters with fatal obsessive causes. Turpin’s view of Frankenstein’s science is an abomination, and he would know because he keeps a stern picture of his deceased wife nearby to remind him. He is smart and observant and could be a variable foe for Sherlock – I mean Frankenstein, were it not for the twin fatal flaws of religion and insanity. If he is okay with this, he’s too crazy to really care.
Look, you’re not going to see this movie because you have a love of the source material. Nor are you plopping down good money for a thoughtful dissertation on the dichotomy of the Industrial Revolution and Victorian religious zealotry. You don’t care about the effects of infectious cysts and adolescent bone growths or how clowns even get a hold of books. This is an alternate telling of how Victor Frankenstein became the man who becomes the monster, of entering the story of a man who’s so far down the hole of his own madness the very idea of a return to sanity is insane. There are side stories of friendship and a budding romance, neither of which really get resolved, but again, you’re not going to see a movie about Igor falling in love.
Max Landis isn’t known (well, period) for original storylines – see Fear Itself’s Something With Bite, and Masters of Horror’s Deer Woman – and this re-imagining a of Frankenstein prequel from the perspective of an Igor isn’t a new idea. Paul McGuigan dips into BBC’s Sherlock for visuals and info dumps, so there isn’t anything new to see here either. It isn’t even a particularly transformative story and if you’re into things like story arcs, themes, and personal journeys, this really isn’t the genre for it. It’s a flashy, steampunky gothic detective story, with elements of scary monsters, reanimated horrors, and interpersonal dynamics that would benefit from a little therapy.
This isn’t a great film, but it’s a fun film. Bottom line: go have a good time.