Nutshell: A fascinating look at the friendship/partnership between Victor Frankenstein and his right-hand-man Igor. But this film also shines a light on obsession and its various forms, including a stellar performance by Sherlock‘s Andrew Scott as a driven police officer determined to bring the pair down. Grade: B
So. You thought you’d seen the last of the spooky for the year? Well, no. Frankenstein, his monster, and Victor’s dogsbody Igor are comin’ at’cha, and it’s a film that’s well worth a look even for folks who don’t “do” horror. Why? Because Victor Frankenstein manages to keep the rip-roaring “It’s alive! ALIVE!” action of James Whale’s 1931 classic and add in a look at how obsession of any type can ultimately bring about your downfall.
That last bit is a paradigm shift from the usual black-and-white ideas of good and evil, bad guys and good guys, that were so popular when films themselves were in black-and-white. Here, Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) is definitely a few sammiches short of a picnic; he’s determined to create life from the dead, at whatever cost to himself or others. He sees something in a young man (Daniel Radcliffe) whose deformity has made him a whipping boy in a circus. Victor frees the man, cures him, and christens him Igor, after a former roommate (the man had no name before then.) But Victor doesn’t do this out of largess; from acting as the circus’ makeshift doctor, Igor has a brilliant medical mind, and the ability to sketch human anatomy with incredible precision. Igor is delighted to help Victor, but when Igor’s crush Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay, Downton Abbey) also leaves the circus and the two become close, Victor’s obsession begins to war with Igor’s longing for a “normal” life. Meanwhile, police Inspector Turbin (Andrew Scott) researches a murder at the circus, and comes to find out about Victor’s experiments. A religious zealot, Turbin is determined to put a stop to these affronts to God by any means necessary. Cue the Strickfaden machines!
Director Paul McGuigan brings his mix of action and tongue-in-cheek humor from Sherlock into this film, along with the themes of obsession, the complexities of male bonding, and putting the past to rest. Max Landis’ screenplay balances whipsmart dialogue with plenty of the action that McGuigan frames so beautifully. And yes, it’s a beautiful film.
As for the performances? Of course McAvoy and Radcliffe are excellent. Being as this is a genre piece, I worried I’d see too much Professor X and Harry Potter here, but both actors did a wonderful job with channeling these characters and putting their other ones out of my mind. Then there’s Andrew Scott, whose Inspector Turbin is both horrifying, creepy and fascinating. Turbin’s single-mindendess of purpose and obsession with the man he’s trying to track down harks back to Scott’s work on Sherlock. Heck, with Sherlock, Spectre and this film, it’s borderline typecasting at this point. But he’s damn fun to watch, even when I was dying for him to just pull a Purple Wedding Joffrey already.
It’s lovely to see Findlay in anything (#RIPSybil #NoLongerASpoiler), so seeing her here is a treat. Yes, she’s the usual Love Interest Chick™, but she’s given more than a touch of gumption here, and her Lorelei isn’t afraid to get into the thick of things when it’s down to the climax wire. And Freddie Fox (St. Trinian’s 2; what? It’s a fun series) has fun as upperclass twit Finnegan; he’s right up there for Boo-Hiss Baddie of the film, but gotta give the Big Bad award to Scott for Turbin’s psychotic break and the inspector’s almost drooling desire to see our boys destroyed.
The balance between one man’s pursuit of science and another’s abject horror of same is an interesting balance. This dichotomy can also be tied to much of the bitching and sniping we see on the internets today, which gives this classic tale a modern twist. That, and the all-out hyper fun of watching Victor rave about LIFE!!11! while Igor tries to figure out how to curb his rabid master makes Victor Frankenstein eminently watchable. Okay, so there’s a few bits that feel slow, and some of the medical razzle-dazzle left me trying to figure it all out — creating a man requires him to [be a Timelord] have two hearts? How does that work with one aorta? Still, if you’re not a medical nerd (or if you are and don’t get hung up like I did), this Oscar-bait movie (c’mon, it’ll be up for more than a few “backstage” noms) definitely balances out the more depressing offerings this season.