Friday, January 31, 2014

The Cinema File #310: "I, Frankenstein" Review

Very recently, I made a personal commitment to try to be a little less cynical in my approach to film criticism, and in light of that, I suppose I could face no better test than having my first subsequent review be for a movie like I, Frankenstein. In my vain attempt to try and think of something positive to say about it, the best thing I could come up with is that its title seems to be a cheeky challenge to all those geeks who insist that The Monster never be called Frankenstein, because that's the scientist's name and not his creation. For the record, unless you think Bride of Frankenstein is about the doctor's wife and not the zombie with the big hair, you'd have to agree with me that either name is acceptable, and I applaud the balls of this film for not even paying lip service to the silliness that has surrounded this cinematic mainstay for so many years. Beyond that, the positives get a bit thin.

I, Frankenstein is the story of Frankenstein, the monster created by the mad doctor of the same name, who after surviving the events of the original novel survives to the present day only to become the focal point of a secret war between supernatural creatures, naturally with the fate of the world at stake. You might think that when I refer to supernatural creatures, I must be talking about vampires or werewolves or some other classic monster closely associated with Frankenstein, but you'd be wrong. The creatures in question are actually gargoyles and demons respectively, or rather shape shifting soldiers tasked by unseen archangels to wage an endless war against shape shifting criminals who kinda look like the gargoyles too, just without wings, or really any discernible feature that might make them interesting.

The fact that Frankenstein is caught in the middle of these two armies is so random that I almost wonder if at some point this was a different story altogether. The fact that he's Frankenstein as opposed to any other famous or non-famous supernatural being isn't really all that important to the story save for one twist specific to his artificial nature, and its all so wedged together that I can easily see Frankenstein being a last minute replacement for some other character that didn't work as well or maybe wasn't deemed cool enough. The alternative explanation is that they wanted to do a Frankenstein version of Underworld, didn't want to reuse vampires or werewolves, and then googled Gothic and picked the first thing that came up as this Gothic literary figure's natural enemy. Or maybe they wanted to do the gargoyle vs. demon thing but needed more of a hook, so what the fuck, let's throw Frankenstein into that shit.

And let's face it, he's barely Frankenstein. Not since the CW's Beauty And The Beast has there been a hideous monster made a social pariah due to his deformity who was this implausibly handsome. When he takes his shirt off, which is a lot of the time by the way, he's basically just a guy with a few scars, like he'd maybe been in a bad fall or a car accident, just enough so that the thought of him making passionate love to his female love interest isn't an instantly disgusting scenario before you remember that it would still constitute necrophilia. Aaron Eckhart does his level best with some pretty shallow material, treating his heavy handed hero as an audition piece for a better written action leading man part in the future. Also, speaking of Underworld, Bill Nighy shows up as a capable bad guy, because apparently he will do anything. When he eventually wins an Oscar for one of his many great performances in movies that aren't this one, don't be surprised if he's unable to accept his award because he's off filming Jaws 5: The Re-Revenge.

Hey, remember how the make up effects in Buffy The Vampire Slayer the Series were kind of just okay for a mid-90's television budget? That is all the monster effects in this movie. Its not just that they don't look very good on a technical level, which they don't, but they aren't even designed with any degree of imagination or whimsy. They feel like rejected Stan Winston molds relegated to the background scenes of a Men In Black movie, none worse than Nighy's final monster form which I'm pretty sure is a re-dressed version of Ivan Ooze from Power Rangers: The Movie. The gargoyles are by contrast all CGI, and specifically, the CGI from an old Playstation One game they were able to re-purpose some twenty years later. I can't honestly say that a more varied or interesting job in this area akin to a Guillermo Del Toro movie would have made it all that much better, but it would have at least convinced me that the people making it were actually passionate about what they were doing.

That's the biggest problem with this movie. It's just on autopilot the entire time, front loading all of its pointless and needlessly convoluted exposition into the first ten minutes to make room for one equally pointless action sequence after another until it mercifully ends 90 minutes later. Even The Mortal Instruments, a similarly vacuous supernatural action movie at least tried (and failed) to establish characters and romantic intrigue. This movie doesn't try to be anything but fodder for a trailer with a lot of slow walking and Riddick-style faux badassery that is never earned or even shot all that convincingly. I lost count of how many conversations spelled out the narrative trope being used, as Frankenstein is told point blank what an outsider he is and that he needs to pick a side and regain his humanity in practically every other scene. This movie could have been the movie Van Helsing should have been, a much needed action-packed update to classic characters rife with blockbuster potential. I mean, its freaking Frankenstein for goodness sake! Even if you don't throw Dracula or the Mummy into the mix, that's still pretty hard to screw up this completely, but somehow they found a way.

All of this being said, it would be easy to tear apart any movie that wears its superficiality and stupidity so obviously on its sleeve, but there's also something just a bit refreshing in its honesty. I, Frankenstein is exactly what it says on the tin, and exactly as bad as you would think it would be, no more, no less. There's no way you could see the trailer for this movie or even the poster and not know exactly what you're in for, whether this is the kind of thing you like or not. I found it as unappealing as I was expecting, and the only other people in my theater, who clapped when it was over, apparently found what they were expecting as well, which just so happens to be the exact opposite expectation. Technically, I, Frankenstein doesn't disappoint, because it couldn't possibly no matter what you think it is or should be. Its like it pulls its big, fat, smelly I, Frankenstein schwanzstucker out, slaps it on the table and says "take it or leave it." I'd recommend leaving it, but then that's just me.

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