Director: Stuart Beattie
Writer: Stuart Beattie, Kevin Grevioux
Producer: Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Richard Wright, Andrew Mason, Sidney Kimmel
Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Yvonne Strahovski, Miranda Otto, Bill Nighy, Jai Courtney, Socratis Otto, Aden Young
200 years after his creation, Frankenstein’s monster becomes the central figure in a secret war between gargoyles and demons.
Before it hit theaters, pre-release hype for “I, Frankenstein” occupied an overabundance of promotional space in the form of trailers, previews, commercials, Comic-Con panels, and any other available ad space that wasn’t nailed down. After the film’s embarrassing sixth-place debut at the U.S. box office, that marketing freight train was promptly derailed by rampant thrashings and dismal critical reviews.
Could “I, Frankenstein” really be as disappointing as its 4% rating on Rotten Tomatoes would suggest? Yes and no. Although mostly yes and only a little bit no.
Former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter once revealed on his blog that the mega-successful mega-crossover event comic “Secret Wars” gained its name from “focus group tests indicat(ing) that kids reacted positively to the words ‘wars’ and ‘secret.’” And since “Secret Wars” came into being as a project meant to promote a new line of Mattel toys, there was a mandate for the comic to include “new fortresses, vehicles and weapons” for the sole purpose of selling toys based around a story that was intentionally designed as a commercial.
Those anecdotes came to mind while writing the “I, Frankenstein” summary above and using the phrase “secret war.” I imagined brainstorming sessions putting together the movie in a similarly arbitrary manner of allowing commercial prospects and marketing ideas to dictate the creative process.
“Kids like winged creatures with fangs and horns and stuff, right? We should have some of those.” “Market research indicates that ninjas are hot right now, so let’s make sure we work bladed weapons in there somewhere.” “Oh, and don’t forget to wrap everything up with a lot of noisy CGI fireballs. Audiences love explosions.”
Even though there isn’t a toy line tie-in, it’s hard to conceive of a reason why the cornucopia of settings includes a dark Gothic cathedral, a futuristic science lab, and assorted rundown buildings if not to sell multiple playsets to boys ages 6-10. In much the same manner that Dr. Frankenstein stitched together his creature, “I, Frankenstein” jolts itself into being by culling various pieces from dead weight and batty ideas to assemble a runaway monstrosity that just isn’t quite right.
Were it submitted for an assignment as part of a community college Introduction to Screenwriting course, the “I, Frankenstein” script would earn an A+. A freshman year instructor would be thrilled to see a riskless 90 pages following the pre-approved Hollywood formula to the letter. Not once does it deviate from the rubber-stamped template big studios like to play it safe with and it is so generic that the film’s poster should be a simple white box with black lettering.
The lukewarm blandness is evident early, when dialogue groans with flavorless lines like, “I thought it was the end, but it was actually just the beginning.” When an attacker warns, “God will surely damn you,” Aaron Eckhart grits his teeth and predictably scowls, “he already did.” There is an oddly captivating tinge to the heavy hamminess that comes from wondering if Eckhart had this mind when he dreamt of becoming an actor.
Eckhart’s Adam is the most agile and articulate Frankenstein’s Monster ever depicted onscreen, which only increases the shock that his is also the most listless and boring version as well. Dressed in a plain trenchcoat and hoodie with a misplaced Philadelphia lawyer haircut, the physical look starts Adam in dull territory, and the characterization keeps him there.
Introduced from the outset as an overly brooding grump who directly killed his creator’s wife before indirectly killing his creator, “I, Frankenstein” never gives a reason to sympathize with its central figure and never offers anything to latch onto. Bill Nighy’s villain is just as one-dimensional. His is the kind of classy antagonist who delicately sips tea while lording over his kingdom and pointlessly caresses random test tubes while looking for something to do during long bouts of exposition.
The easy metaphor to make is to compare “I, Frankenstein” to the monster itself as having a visually imposing exterior, but possessing no soul in its lifeless interior. So why an indifferent review score instead of an outright negative one for a movie with overdone ideas and an unoriginal presentation? With poor word-of-mouth already putting anticipation underneath the basement ahead of time, perhaps shrugging shoulders at the film is the only appropriate response.
“I, Frankenstein” is intentionally orchestrated to be accessible entertainment meant to run on fireworks and without brainpower. So for those still bowled over by exploding creatures and snarling monsters duking it out in effects-heavy fight sequences, “I, Frankenstein” satisfies popcorn crowds with low expectations. It’s only those of us looking for a spark of inspiration in story, characters, or anything else that are left out in the cold to drop dead of exposure, just like Victor Frankenstein himself.
Review Score: 50