Saturday, February 24, 2018
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VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN: When Great Actors Save A Mediocre Script

It's been at least two years now since I first saw Daniel Radcliffe on The Graham Norton Show, sporting the unattractive hair extensions that would define his character, Igor's, look. Admittedly, I have been excited for Victor Frankenstein since I first heard of its production. A Frankenstein 're-imagining', told from Igor's point of view, and one starring both Daniel Radcliffe and James

Victor Frankenstein

It’s been at least two years now since I first saw Daniel Radcliffe on The Graham Norton Show, sporting the unattractive hair extensions that would define his character, Igor’s, look. Admittedly, I have been excited for Victor Frankenstein since I first heard of its production. A Frankenstein ‘re-imagining’, told from Igor’s point of view, and one starring both Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy? It sounded great.

When Sherlock director Paul McGuigan and cast members signed on to various supporting roles, I had high hopes indeed. Although, there was one fly in the ointment. The script was written by the unknown Max Landis. This doesn’t mean much, but in the end, while there is nothing really bad to be said about Landis’ script, there’s not much to get excited about either.

As A Whole

Victor Frankenstein is not a bad film, as a whole it’s probably just about average. Which is to say that all the really great elements of the film buoy up the poorer ones. To begin with, there was no director more perfect to take on this film than McGuigan. Apart from directing the incredible thriller Lucky Number Slevin, director Paul McGuigan has directed four out of the nine episodes of the hugely successful Sherlock series. He’s skilled in the kind of pacey thriller that Victor Frankenstein needed to be. I would even go so far as to say that, in some respects, he saved Max Landis’ pretty mediocre script.

source: 20th Century Fox

source: 20th Century Fox

While Landis has a wealth of writing experience, none of his projects have been particularly successful. I would say he, and the producers, were incredibly lucky to get the director and cast that they did. His script unhelpfully (if like most sons he wants to step out of his dad’s shadow) points to his status as John Landis’ son. If I didn’t know otherwise I would swear it was him that wrote his father’s disappointing Burke & Hare. His script isn’t poor, but it’s just not very exciting; you’re not at all scared or tense or nervous. Landis started off on shaky foundations – we all know what happens in the Frankenstein story, but that’s no excuse for how underwhelming the film turned out to be.

Even with a commonly known story, using Igor as a conduit, Landis should have been able to scale new heights of intrigue and horror. This is 2015, you can go much further in terms of fear and violence, but Landis doesn’t attempt the climb. Neither does he stick to a jocular gothic horror theme, one which would make a great show out of Frankenstein’s theatricality (luckily McAvoy & McGuigan make up for that). He tries to investigate why Victor Frankenstein is the way he is, delving into the emotional back story, but it all just feels a bit shallow (as does his examination of Igor and Turpin). In fact, if it hadn’t been for James McAvoy’s performance I would have found the film quite dull indeed.

The Majestic Mr. McAvoy

Of course, Daniel Radcliffe as Igor is a central part of Victor Frankenstein. However, poor Dan doesn’t really get much to do. This is the first time I would say that he has played himself and it’s not very exciting. James McAvoy, on the other hand, puts on a hell of a show.

source: 20th Century Fox

source: 20th Century Fox

James McAvoy is a superb actor, one of my favourites, and I’m always in awe of his ability to convey sadness, or anger, on the cinema screen. In Victor Frankenstein he’s simply outstanding. He’s quick with his words and fast on his feet, marrying together years of character study and basic stunt work. Not only that but even in Landis’ very thin portrayal of Victor Frankenstein, McAvoy offers depth and charisma; he really is a joy to watch. The only downfall in his performance is that the dialogue isn’t enough for McAvoy’s show. Some very amusing scenes are cut short or underperform, simply because the writing isn’t there.

Saving Graces

Victor Frankenstein really has a superb cast. While Radcliffe doesn’t get much to do, or maybe doesn’t do much with what he has, Jessica Brown Findlay is pretty great. I have spent a good couple of years having quite a low opinion of Findlay, but she has really grown up. Her once blank face is now full of emotion, and her performance is quite exciting. One of the film’s saving graces is that Lorelei is an interesting and even heroic character, unlike the stereotypical female love interest of this genre.

Victor Frankenstein

source: 20th Century Fox

Leading the band of Sherlock actors (Mark Gatiss & Louise Brealey also appear) is Andrew Scott as Inspector Turpin, the man intent on bringing Frankenstein down. Unlike Radcliffe, he gets a few very exciting scenes and, like McAvoy, he makes the most of them. Turpin is a religious man who feels threatened by Frankenstein’s attempt to play God. Even with this subtext he’s a bit of a two-dimensional character, but Scott really brings his A-Game, the result of which is that the scenes between McAvoy and Scott are the best in the film.

Conclusion

Victor Frankenstein was never going to be some great surprise. We know too much about Shelley’s original story, and have seen too many film versions to be very excited about it. However, there was enough wriggle room here for Landis to create something deep, or horrific, or funny, and while he just about attempts all three you’re left feeling extremely shortchanged.

The film as a whole, is okay. Though you’re never sucked into it for a moment, McGuigan’s directing and McAvoy’s performance make sure that whatever is going on, on screen, is worth watching. But if you’re wondering as to whether this is worth the trip to the cinema, it really isn’t. If it wasn’t for the quality of the British cast and direction I doubt I would be discussing it at all.

Have you seen Victor Frankenstein? What did you think? How does it stand up against other adaptations of Mary Shelley’s book?

Victor Frankenstein is currently out in both the UK and US. For the release dates in your country see here.

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Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.

I love film, more than people probably, and I will watch pretty much anything. Seriously, anything! I have a postgraduate education in film & have spent an exceptionally long time trying to get inside the film industry. I'm a big believer in treating every film the same, and bringing something new to the film theory table, giving reasons for every argument made. You'll find that I'm an empathetic and fun sort of reviewer, at least, I like to think so. If I'm not watching films I'm doing exceptionally nerdy stuff, like watching documentaries about the history of medicine and collecting photos of old post boxes.

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