Given Paul McGuigan’s – the helmer of the latest retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein – connection to Steven Moffat’s Sherlock series, there’s no wonder that his Daniel Radcliffe-James McAvoy starring Victor Frankenstein has an oddly dissatisfying whiff of the Baker Street detective about it.
“You know this story: a crack of lightning, a mad genius… an unholy creation,” Radcliffe’s Igor narrates ominously over the film’s final sequence; as told through the eyes of Victor Frankenstein’s (McAvoy) long-time assistant-turned-partner, this new-age take delves into life long before the mad scientist’s greatest, most feared creation was ever conceived.
From circus freak to protégé, Igor’s world was turned upside down by the unpredictable medical student, Frankenstein, who rescued his soon-to-be partner from the miserable abyss of stage show horror.
With his romance with the glamourous Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay) fizzling over in the background, the once-hunchbacked prisoner watches over his eccentric new friend as together they fight against nature – and a judgemental society (represented by Andrew Scott’s religiously inclined Inspector Turpin) – to create unholy life.
Following on from last year’s spectacularly appalling I, Frankenstein, there appears to be a trend of new-age alternatives to this revered tale crawling out of the pipeline. Although far from the fiery pits of cinematic hell to which Stuart Beattie’s monstrous attempt belongs, like the 2014 flop, Victor Frankenstein cannot re-light the hardy, well-constructed fire that previous successful attempts alit.
You can only imagine McAvoy had Benedict’s ‘best of’ clips running on repeat as the Scottish star’s performance – exaggerated, eye-catching, yet oddly repelling – felt like he was a deerstalker away from being a Cumberbatch tribute act. With Radcliffe, it was difficult not to imagine Ben Stiller’s ‘Simple Jack’ from the ever-funny Tropic Thunder as the Harry Potter star’s early portrayal of the then-hunched-over Igor felt embarrassingly pantomime-ish.
Delivered from Igor’s perspective yet carrying the name of someone else, it felt – like the movie’s somewhat misleading title – as though this Frankenstein flick has tripped over its own sluggish, soulless feet. There’s lots of flamboyance and spectacle in its performances and delivery, yet feels – despite what’s been cooked up in that dingy cellar – all too lifeless at its core. Its whole religious-moral undertones feel rushed, whilst the film’s main antagonist – Scott’s god-loving, fear-mongering police inspector – never quite convinces.
From Branagh to Wilder, the monster’s had his fair share of outings, but it’s hard to see McGuigan’s Sherlockian-lite (x-ray vision, anyone?) feature standing the test of time amongst the packed back catalogue. Deserving credit for its attempted ‘fresh’ spin, it’s unfortunate that there’s more soul in the “ungodly creation” than this unriveting adaptation…