[Screen It]


(2015) (James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe) (PG-13)

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Horror: A mid-19th century medical student enlists the aid of a mistreated but brilliant circus performer to help him reanimate stitched together dead body parts into a living, sentient human being.
It's 1860 and Victor Frankenstein (JAMES McAVOY) is a medical student who'd rather be conducting his wild science experiments than going to class with the likes of Finnegan (FREDDIE FOX) who comes from the third richest family in England. Specifically, he's trying to reanimate dead animal organs via jolts of electricity, and his search for animal parts has led him to a local circus encampment. There, a young hunchback (DANIEL RADCLIFFE) is mistreated by nearly everyone, both in and out of the performance ring. Despite being a self-taught doctor, all but trapeze artist Lorelei (JESSICA BROWN FINDLAY) believes he's nothing more than a freak.

But when Victor watches the man save Lorelei's life after a bad fall, he realizes he's found his new assistant and manages to free him from imprisonment there, but not before various close calls and the accidental death of another circus worker. That draws the attention of Scotland Yard inspector Roderick Turnpin (ANDREW SCOTT) who's intrigued that a death occurred at the same place where circus animal parts have been stolen. He's becoming increasingly obsessed with the latter, believes that Frankenstein is somehow involved, and realizes he could use the alleged circus murder to get to him.

Having given the young man the name of his former assistant, Igor, and fixing his hunchback problem, Victor gets to work conducting his experiments, eventually reanimated a dead chimpanzee that's been cobbled together with other animal parts. When he presents another take of that reanimation to Lorelei and Finnegan, the former is horrified but the latter is intrigued enough to fund further experimentation. After a run-in with Turnpin that makes him a fugitive from the law, Victor ends up traveling to Finnegan's remote castle where he hopes to complete his latest experiment, the reanimation of human body parts into a living, sentient human being.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Back when Mary Shelley published "Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus" in 1818, that must have blown people's minds, what with the macabre story of reanimating assembled dead human body parts into a living, breathing and sentient being. To say it was unsettling is probably an understatement. It also ultimately spawned a terrific 1931 film, "Frankenstein," which was probably the genesis of everyone calling the monster Frankenstein rather than the more correct Frankenstein's monster.

Since then, however, the revived assembled body parts have lost most of their scare power, and instead the monster has become something of a comedy figure, be that in TV's "The Munsters," the terrific spoof film "Young Frankenstein," or as a skit character on "Saturday Night Live" (played by the late, great Phil Hartman). It was even the namesake a few decades ago for a certain Edgar Winter group song (so named for all of the music styles, instruments and such cobbled together).

And the overall thought of playing God and creating life has been supplanted in the audience's minds by the likes of the far more exciting "Jurassic Park" movies. In those, the chaos theory expert played by Jeff Goldblum responds to the park's creator having said, "Our scientists have done things which nobody's ever done before" with the reply, "Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." He also says at what point, "God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs."

Undeterred by dear old Franky no longer having the monster power he once wielded, screenwriter Max Landis and director Paul McGuigan have returned to the man creates monster well with the latest version of the Frankenstein tale, "Victor Frankenstein." In it, a variation of the aforementioned chaos theorist's thematic rumination is brought up by Igor (played by, of all actors, Daniel Radcliffe) who isn't so sure that his benefactor, the title character (played by James McAvoy), should be playing God. Mind you, he doesn't have the religious morality issue presented by a Scotland Yard inspector (Andrew Scott) whose investigation into the odd thefts of circus animal parts has led him to believe Frankenstein is up to no good (or evil, Satanic good, if you will).

But Igor can't seem to make up his mind. Sometimes he's completely in on the plan, and then inexplicably backs out, only to be on again. While I suppose some people would have the same dilemma -- "It's really cool, but also sorta icky and probably not a good idea -- his wishy-washiness isn't the film's only problem. Early on, via voice-over narration, his character -- rescued from a circus and then relieved of his hunchback that turns out to be an enormous boil drained in a spectacularly gross fashion -- states that people remember the monster and not the man, adding that sometimes the man is the monster.

Thus, Landis' tale focuses on the title character who's played so over the top by McAvoy that you wish he'd keep going and dive the rest of the way into full-out camp. His character is obviously a mad scientist, ego-driven genius, but the usually terrific actor plays him like a speed freak who's out of control. That creates a tonal problem for the film in that most everyone else is playing it fairly straight (except for Freddie Fox as a rich investor who's often camping it up to one degree or another), and thus the pic seems to be all over the map.

A love story between Igor and his former fellow circus performer (Jessica Brown Findlay) is under baked at best, while the hunt by the moralistic Scotland Yard inspector likewise doesn't work as well as intended. And the monster doesn't ultimately show up until the third act in the big action and special effects extravaganza that similarly disappoints, both from a horror standpoint, but also a moral, thematic one where the mad scientist realizes, too late, the error of his ways.

And since everything that's led up to the point means we don't really care, Frankenstein's monster once again gets the short shrift. We don't really feel sorry for him as we should (which could have happened had he been around longer to get our sympathy), while he's portrayed as nothing more than a freak of nature monster who puts the leads in peril while death and destruction occurs all around them. Give me Boris Karloff or "Young Frankenstein" any day over this tonally confused genre pic. "Victor Frankenstein" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 23, 2015 / Posted November 25, 2015

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