Director: Paul McGuigan
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, James McIvoy
1 Globe (out of 5)
What if Igor had a girlfriend? What if he wasn’t even a hunchback but just had a nasty abscess that needed draining? What if mad doctor Victor Frankenstein made the traditionally grotesque, peabrained assistant his partner, because Igor was also, by the way, an amateur scientific genius who cleaned up good if you directed him to a shower? But is that really cooler than the actual, deservedly iconic Igor, even if he didn’t become a London dandy? We live in a time when writers aren’t content to re-spin the classics but must dramatically — which is not to always say creatively — rework them, for therein, they assume, lies the path to true originality?
Thing is, these twists on old standards — like the recent “Pan,” which purport to tell the larger-than-life business that really happened — are now as tired as the tales told time and time again, presuming we’re tired of them at all. “You know the story,” Daniel Radcliffe’s Igor purrs in “Victor Frankenstein”’s opening seconds, then gives us time to groan before it removes all that was great and, more important, fun about an ageless brand. Nevermind that titles like “Frankenstein” survive because their foundation was strong, and can withstand some playing around with without the whole thing being detonated from the ground up.
But no matter. Here’s a Frankenstein (James McAvoy) who’s cheerfully insane, and who’s still, crowing about a new story aside aside, eventually going to create some gnarly Prometheus out of spare parts and lightning. Some of the new origin story dreamed up, by unfortunately “It” screenwriter Max Landis (“Chronicle,” “American Ultra”), has a batty, nasty charm (of sorts). Frankenstein draining Igor’s abscess is good for a leftfield gross-out, as is a larval version of their monster that’s a patchwork of random chimpanzees.
Less diverting is Igor’s nonsensical action-packed escape from a circus, or the part where he bangs one of the “Downton Abbey” gals (Jessica Brown Findlay). (His Tinder come-on: “I have a new name. I’m Igor.”) There’s also a dead end subplot about a tiresome Scotland Yard dic (Andrew Scott) out to nab Frankenstein for a murder he didn’t commit, and another one about corporatizing his creations into an army of homunculi, which, alas, proves too weird to be true.
McAvoy, to his credit, gives into the silliness, hamming and spittling like mad, eyes bulging inches above a deranged grin. Director Paul McGuigan likes to put him in garish close-ups, though everything else he shoots tends to be a visual muddle, entire action scenes told in a riot of rain and electric bolts punctuated by cutaways to McAvoy cackling as he goes down with the ship. And Radcliffe’s stammering rom-com Hugh Grant version of Igor gets old fast, while the monster, once he comes, is dispatched like the anticlimax he is.
For a movie without a sincere philosophical idea in its head, there’s a lot of chatter about Frankenstein’s name being either forgotten or immortalized. Luckily the old Universal monsters from the ’30s are allegedly being Marvel Cinematic Universe-ized, and presumably straight-up, not this Blacklist-style pomo business, because monsters are awesome as they are. Even if that doesn’t happen, “Victor Frankenstein” may survive only on listicles of films that (hopefully) killed this worrying trend before it even hit puberty.