Movie Review: I, Frankenstein

There's one downside to having a birthday in January: they never release any good movies during that month so I almost always wind up having to see something terrible. (Don't get me started on the Spice World debacle of 1998.) So when I saw that I, Frankenstein, a film based on a comic book, starring Aaron Eckhart, and containing a shit-ton of demonic violence, was being released on January 24th (the day before my birthday), I was both excited and disappointed in the same breath. The excitement was over the fact that there was finally a movie worth seeing on my birthday and the disappointment over how unarguably terrible it was bound to be.

That didn't stop me, though. Early Saturday afternoon, my wife and I drove to the cinema, purchased two tickets of our own volition (as well as popcorn and soda, which may have helped to dull the pain a little) and sat through the entire showing of I, Frankenstein. It was pretty much how I expected it to be.

The movie starts right after the immortal story of Frankenstein ends, with the monster burying a frozen-to-death Victor Frankenstein. He is then attacked by a trio of creatures who overpower him and knock him unconscious, then quickly rescued by a pair of metamorphosing gargoyles. The gargoyle people beat the demons and take the monster back to their queen where she explains the ongoing war between demons and gargoyles which he has just become a part of.

Oh, she also names him Adam, because it's subtle, you know.

The plot is fairly simple; a demon lord, Naberius (Bill Nighy), wants to discover the secret behind Victor Frankenstein's revival of dead flesh that led to the creation of his monster. As such, he seeks out the monster itself, or at the very least the secret "lost" diary of Frankenstein. I won't go into why he wants to learn this, just know that he does. As far as advancing the film goes, the plot is pretty straightforward. Not much wiggle room for any mind-blowing plot twists but also not the most simple of ideas ever to be turned into a movie. Unfortunately, it just seems to meander around that point, all while trying to imbue Adam with a sense of belonging, which basically counteracts the entire theme behind Mary Shelley's story. But whatever; they're doing their own thing and that's not what bothered me.

What did bother me was that the entire movie just felt like a rehash of the Underworld series. An immortal war between two mysterious races, hidden from the eyes of humans, wherein a lone individual with powers to rival both sides comes into play that can change the balance of the battle in either direction. The similarities make sense when you realize that the writer of the comic book the movie is based on, Kevin Grevioux, also wrote the screenplay for Underworld. I don't know if I, Frankenstein was based on the way Underworld played out or if it was subconsciously influenced by it but there's no denying the two movies are very similar in plot and tone.

Even though I despised Underworld, I found I, Frankenstein enjoyable. Probably through the work of the cast. Ever since The Dark Knight, I have had the utmost respect for Aaron Eckhart and the way he handles himself on screen. Though it seemed like weird casting to have him portray Frankenstein's monster in the film, he does bring great bravado to the role. He plays it with straight-faced angst, which you would expect in a character like Frankenstein's monster, but it doesn't give Eckhart the chance to display his range of abilities.

The other actors do well with what they're given. Nighy, for example, makes a fantastic megalomaniac. His portrayal of Naberius is clever and well-played, and probably the best part of the movie. Yvonne Strahovski plays a genetic scientist named Terra Wade in the employ of Naberius to reanimate deceased tissue. More of a plot device than a character, Strahovski does the best she can with the part, and at least she's given a wider emotional range than Eckhart. A few others, like Miranda Otto who plays the gargoyle queen, Leonore, and John McClane's son, Jai Courtney, plays her right-hand man, Gideon. Both roles call for stoic delivery and they succeed on that front. They also succeed in being flat and annoying, but I don't think that's what the script was looking for.

Despite the bad script and lack of characterization, the movie isn't totally bad. The special effects were pretty great and the fight scenes well-choreographed. I definitely won't argue the merits of a movie like I, Frankenstein but I can appreciate it for what it is, a brain-dead, "escape from the world" kind of movie. In that regard, I have no shame saying that I had a good time. It gave me 90 minutes where I didn't have to deal with the crushing weight of real life and really, isn't that what movies should do?

But yes, I, Frankenstein is a bad film and definitely helped to maintain my track record of "Bad Movie Birthdays".

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