I was excited for this movie after seeing the trailer because I really like the combination of James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe, who have great chemistry together, and even when reviews started coming in bad, I shrugged it off. After all, I liked American Ultra, which is written by the same screenwriter, Max Landis, and a lot of other people didn’t, so I had hoped that Victor Frankenstein would be like Ultra—a little too weird to be widely embraced, but not actually bad in and of itself. Well I saw it. And it’s bad. It’s not weird—that’s actually part of the problem—it’s just bad. And then, because Max Landis is trying to prove he’s not the reason why two of his movies have failed in a row, I read the script for Frankenstein after Landis published it online.
Landis’s script reveals that there was originally more personality in Victor Frankenstein, but it also shows signs of what looks to me like studio meddling, particularly around the rushed ending, so I’d be curious to know where this draft fell in the order of drafts leading up to production. Also, though Landis retains the sole writing credit, director Paul McGuigan (Sherlock) did an uncredited rewrite, which DanRad praised as he didn’t seem super into Landis’s unfiltered treatment. The problem is that Landis is a writer of very specific ideas and images, and the more filmmakers fight his scripts, the worse the movie comes out. Victor Frankenstein feels like a movie that was constantly fought over because the final cut is an unholy mess almost entirely devoid of charm. As it stands, it’s a cheap RDJ/Sherlock Holmes rip-off.
Victor Frankensetin is half prequel, half-reimagining of Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein. The movie is told from the perspective of Igor (DanRad), who in this iteration is a circus clown with a love of medicine who meets young Victor Frankenstein (McAvoy) while trying to save an injured trapeze artist after a fall. The trapeze artist is played by Jessica Brown-Findlay and she is totally useless. I don’t know why they bothered to include her because she adds nothing to the story except that one time Igor gets laid. (She’s not much better in the script, either.)
DanRad and McAvoy are GREAT together on screen, and the best scene in the whole movie is of the two of them drunkenly planning out their monster. Any time they’re separated the movie immediately loses steam. Individually, though, DanRad gets shone down by McAvoy, who can spin gold out of utter garbage because he makes Victor the right combination of charming and off-putting and he is compelling no matter how ridiculous the movie around him gets. Also, the James McAvoy Snots Everywhere streak is alive, as there are two separate snot incidents, and also several instances of MAJOR SPITTLE. Seriously, working with James McAvoy must require the use of splash guards.
But McAvoy can’t save this movie. Up until the halfway point it seems like it’s going to be a creature feature about Igor and Victor trying to catch and kill the monster they accidentally unleash on London—imagine Attack the Block but in Victorian England. The idea that “Frankenstein’s monster” is actually a creepy animal mish-mash that escapes Victor’s lab and he has to catch it while also avoiding a smart detective (Sherlock alum Andrew Scott) is solid. I was down with the movie till that plot fell apart and it switches gears into a more generic monster movie reboot.
Victor Frankenstein just isn’t weird enough. McAvoy gives a weirdo performance that belongs in a much more odd, preferably R-rated, movie, but instead he’s stuck in a PG-13 glorified TV episode. McGuigan does okay with the action scenes, but overall this isn’t a very cinematic movie. It’s lit like a TV show—usually TV shows are lit from above, resulting in flat, even lighting—and all the interesting character stuff is dropped in order to rush to the rote action movie ending in which Victor and Igor fight the monster. I’d be curious to see the version of this movie in which more of Landis’s character development is retained, as well as oddball scenes like Victor and Igor reanimating an infant’s corpse. But instead we’re stuck with this watered down broad-appeal version that ended up appealing to no one.