Published Nov 26, 2015Did the world need another movie about Frankenstein's monster? Thanks to countless adaptations and re-imaginings, the Mary Shelley creation has been tormenting viewers (in both good and bad ways) on the silver screen practically since the dawn of movies.
Victor Frankenstein, Lucky Number Slevin director Paul McGuigan and Chronicle screenwriter Max Landis' latest picture, tries to flip the script ever so slightly, focusing on the man behind the beast rather than the monster itself. Shameless star James McAvoy plays the titular character, and this is certainly the most unhinged he's appeared on screen since he was an out of control copper in Filth. A medical student with little interest in school (and an apparent love for amputating zoo animals at night), he spends his days experimenting with reanimation in his London home, but something's missing.
It's not until he comes across a lowly and nameless clown (played by Daniel Radcliffe, who, for the first ten minutes or so, will likely remind viewers of a hunchbacked Robert Smith) performing an impromptu operation on one of his fellow performers (Jessica Brown Findlay, later his love interest) after a high-wire fall that he finds out that his missing strength is focus. Radcliffe's character is a scientist at heart who is being held back from a more rewarding life due to modern medicine's failings (we soon find out his disfiguration is caused by an undiagnosed abscess), while Frankenstein is more of an ideas man who can't quite put all the scientific pieces together.
They're practically an industrial era Jobs and Wozniak, which is why Frankenstein decides to help him escape from the circus, take on a new persona (Igor Straussman, Frankenstein's long gone and drug addled flatmate) and hire him to take part in some strange scientific experiments in exchange for room and board (cue lightning).
It's a troubling situation from the get-go, and the plot of Victor Frankenstein mostly involves tracking their ascent and descent, from a pair of skilled scientists to a disgraced would-be doctor and his strange friend, and the moral questions their efforts raise along the way. The only person who really stands in their path is Inspector Turpin (played by underappreciated UK actor and Sherlock star Andrew Scott), a pious policeman with a strong sense of self who stands in opposition to Frankenstein and his friend's experiments. Their interactions prove to be the most interesting parts of the movie — especially considering how little screen time the creation actually gets — and raises ideas about the place of religion and faith in police proceedings, as well as science in general.
It's all pretty obvious stuff, meaning that those looking for an entirely new take on the story or a standard creature feature should probably look elsewhere. But for a straightforward character drama, Victor Frankenstein succeeds due to its strong script and storyline, as well as the actors who carry it out. Why this wasn't planned for release around Halloween, and instead the weekend when most Americans are doing their own ghastly experiments with dead flesh, we may never know.
(Twentieth Century Studios)