Review by Mike Finkelstein
Before the monster, before the big experiments and the lightning storm, there were two men. One, an unnamed hunchback, worked at a circus both as a clown and, on the side, as the closest thing to a doctor the circus had. He was abused and hated at the circus but stayed there as he had nowhere else to go. That changed though when he met the other man vital to this story: Victor Frankenstein. Young and arrogant, Victor saw within the hunchback and genius few others could see. Aiding the hunchback, first by freeing him from the dreadful circus and then curing him of his malady, Victor gave the hunchback a name (Igor), a life, and a cause.
But what Victor really needed was a partner, someone to aid him in his experiments to conquer death itself. Igor, more skilled and more observant than his manic friend, could see the errors Victor's work and was able to help the scientist in many different ways. But as Victor's experiemnts grew darker and darker, Igor began to have doubts about what the two men were working on. He feared that Victor might one day go too far, and lose his soul in the process.
As one of wave of recent Frankenstein reimaginings, cred it due to Victor Frankenstein for at least trying something different with the basic story. While most adaptations focus on the doctor or sometimes, to a lesser extent, the monster, this is one of the few times I've seen a production make the main character of the story Frankenstein's assistant (usually, as in this case, named Igor). It reminded me of a different story I read once, a novel based on Dracula but told from Renfield's perspective. I liked the angle and I thought the movie did a good job, at least in the beginning, of showing the Victor in a different light as viewed by is new-found friend.
The two leads were certainly up for the material. James McAvoy (as the titular doctor) played Victor with depth and (very manic) charm. His character here had much of the frailty and humanity he brings to Dr. Xavier over in the X-Men series. While Victor does kind of think of himself as a god, he also knows his limits and, as shown by McAvoy, there's great sadness deep in his soul. This is counter-balanced by Daniel Radcliffe's Igor, a man who was beaten down but, given a second chance by Victor, brings warmth and light to the movie. His Igor is charming which still, deep in his eyes, waiting for that next beating he always expects.
The production, too, was lovingly crafted to enhance the material. It's a strange vibe that the production team went for, as if Moulin Rouge were readapted (sans musical moment) into a tale of the mad Dr. Frankenstein. For a while the manic design plays off the big performances the two leads give, and it all works together.
The problem comes in about halfway when everyone on board suddenly realized, "oh, right, we're making a Frankenstein movie." From the moment Victor reveals his first creation, a monster made (mostly) from a chimpanzee that he wants to bring to life, the movie begins, more and more, to lose his charm and energy and starts fading into a pretty boring monster flick. Once the first experiment inevitably goes wrong, the gleeful fun everyone is having has drained away and the movie becomes a slog to get to the last act, and the last set piece. The big reveal of the doctor's famous creation is more an after-thought than the big climax it should be.
It's a pity, really. THe first half of the movie was weirdly fun. It had energy and was surprisingly engaging. Once the movie settles down and becomes a Frankenstein film is becomes just another Frankenstein films, once we've seen all too many times before. If only the back half could have had as weird an reinvention of the story as the front half did. Then it might have been something special. It's just a weird little misfire in its current form, one most people could (and did) skip.