JANUARY 23, 2014
Like any good horror fan, I get annoyed when people refer to the monster as "Frankenstein", and so the I, Frankenstein title has been a sore point since I first read up on the film and discovered that Aaron Eckhart was indeed playing the monster, not the doctor. As it turns out, however, this is the LEAST of the movie's offenses; I was laughing at it within minutes of its opening frames, and then mostly just bored for its scant 80 minute or so runtime (without credits). I may not be the biggest Underworld fan in the world, but even the worst entry in that series wasn't as soulless and idiotic as this - I actually started to MISS those movies at one point.
I'll get the few things I liked out of the way. One, it's cool to see gargoyles in such a prominent role in a big film like this. Sure, they spend more time in human form and the overuse of CGI means that they're just another generic flying monster for most of the movie, but the closeups usually look pretty great (I almost regretted not seeing in 3D, however since it was a convert it probably wouldn't have been worth the extra 3 bucks) and at least it's conceptually more interesting than another form of werewolf or vampire. And their enemies are demons, who can be killed instantly (too easily, actually) with anything that bears the gargoyle's symbol, which you'll see several dozen times in the film since they slap it on everything (even their building is shaped like one).
But that's also part of the problem. It's unfortunate enough that it's clear from the start that the demons are bad and the gargoyles are good, because it gives Adam (the Monster) nothing to really DO in the movie. The gargoyles find him almost instantly and explain their entire war to him and how evil the demons are, and then the demons show up and have the modern shitty CGI-fest equivalent of twirling their mustaches. It might have been fun to toy with expectations and have the Gargoyles turn out to be the real villains while the monstrous demons were actually good (shades of Nightbreed, basically), but the movie can't be bothered to do anything interesting like that. So it plods along on rails, tossing us one dull action scene after another, broken up only by lengthy globs of exposition from one of the supporting cast members.
Even sillier, the whole Frankenstein element has almost nothing to do with anything. The demons, led by Bill Nighy, want him because they want to recreate Frankenstein's experiment and use it to give life to a bunch of demons that are housed in a Matrix-y hive - but in execution it's no different than any "he/she is the chosen one!" scenario, and for the bulk of the runtime he's just running around killing demons or getting tossed through walls or ceilings, giving us almost nothing to latch onto. It almost seems like the movie would play out exactly the same had he never gotten involved at all, and even that would be OK if there was an interesting Gargoyle hero to make up for it (like 13th Warrior - Banderas is supposedly our hero but Buliwyf is the true badass in the scenario), but they're all blank slates, with the exception of poor Miranda Otto as the Gargoyle Queen (yep) and Jai Courtney as the most gung-ho in their cause (which is basically just killing demons). There's an almost kind of interesting beat at the hour mark where the Gargoyles turn on Adam and it looks like he might join the demons, but it goes nowhere.
Actually, most of the movie goes nowhere. It's just "stuff happening"; even the first scene (after racing through his backstory - which was likely a real sequence at one point and just chopped up to what amounts as a "previously, on Frankenstein" montage) just has a bunch of demons show up and start fighting him before a bunch of Gargoyles show up and fight THEM. And since this is a modern action movie, the fights are nearly incomprehensible - closeups of limbs and things being smashed before CGI takes over. After this we get what I can only describe as a tutorial scene from a video game - he is walked down a corridor while someone rambles (like in Arkham Asylum when Batman is being led to the Joker's cell), and then - I shit you not - there's a scene where they explain the weapons and magic system. I half expected an "Achievement Unlocked!" window to pop up on the screen. Bill Nighy tries his best to give some weight to the proceedings (he's the main, human looking villain - so of course the ending has him covered in CGI-enhanced makeup when he turns into a monster), but his villain is as generic as Eckhart's hero.
Another bizarre thing about this movie - it's strangely underpopulated. The whole hook of bringing Frankenstein's monster into the modern world is a complete non-starter; there's only a single scene of him interacting with the human populace (to give the movie credit, it thankfully avoids any corny Rip Van Winkle type jokes), and the rest of the time he's either in the Gargoyle manor (which resembles any LOTR or Game of Thrones type castle) or on the empty streets of the city. The only other modern touch in the entire movie is the computer equipment in the lab run by the film's only two human characters of note. One of them is Yvonne Strahovski, who is saddled with one of the most thankless female roles in ages. I guess they figured simply making her a scientist would be enough to avoid criticism, and therefore just had her go through the "potential love interest who eventually needs to be rescued" motions as if there's a single person on the planet who wouldn't roll their eyes at such things by this point.
In short, it's a goddamn waste of time for everyone involved, including the audience. There isn't a single good action scene, the characters are an insult to cardboard cutouts, and if it were released in 1996 it would likely be outclassed by the cheapo/quickie tie-in video game for the Sega Genesis. And it apes so much from the Underworld movies that even that series' biggest detractors will just wonder why they're not watching one of those instead. There's a possibility that it was an interesting script at one point, but through an endless development process (this thing was announced in 2010 and there are at least 9 credited producers), and possibility some additional editing after that, any trace of a unique or creative movie has been completely washed away.
What say you?
P.S. If you ignore me and see the movie anyway, be sure to watch all of the credits. There's no extra scene, but there IS a Special Thanks to Mary Shelley. I nearly shat myself.