Someone left a copy of Mary Shelley’s novel out in the rain, threw the wet mess into a blender, hit puree and came up with Victor Frankenstein, the 758th movie retelling of the seminal horror tale, this time with a dash of Marvel Comics and a revisionist perspective thrown in for flavor. Although the mad doctor with a God complex (played by James McAvoy) gets title billing, the star this time is his faithful assistant Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), a circus sideshow freak whose hump turns out to have been a really big zit (no, seriously) and whose curved spine is quickly fixed by wearing a back brace. There, good as new!
Igor isn’t even his real name, and he’s also smarter than his boss: He’s a self-taught genius. Any similarities between Radcliffe’s Igor and Marty Feldman’s iconic portrayal of the character in Young Frankenstein are accidental, except for that one moment in which director Paul McGuigan dares to reference Mel Brooks’ classic, which reminds you there are heaps of better movies you could be watching than this one.
The changes make sense. If you’re going to cast the handsome Radcliffe in your movie, you don’t want him shuffling around like a monster, especially when your target audience is the CW crowd. They like their protagonists to be young and good-looking, something that is true of almost every character in the movie with the exception of Dr. Frankenstein’s mean old dad, who pops up to tut-tut his son and is played, in a neat bit of casting, by Tywin Lannister.
Victor Frankenstein was written by Max Landis, who had previously done good work (Chronicle, American Ultra) and will no doubt go on to do more. They can’t all be winners. Frankenstein, played with a manic intensity by McAvoy, starts out small, successfully reanimating a monkey-creature in front of a group of medical scholars before the experiment goes awry and the doctor swears off homunculi for good. It’ll be a full-grown man or nothing for him next time, and one of the many errors this ill-conceived movie makes is giving his monster — who has two hearts and two sets of lungs but only one brain, an apparently tiny one — an actual identity. Not that it matters who he is, since this time, the creature waits all of five minutes before going on a rampage on par with Ultron in The Avengers.
But the wait to the big finale is long. Before then, you have to suffer through Igor’s love affair with a trapeze artist (Jessica Brown Findlay) who recovers from near-paralysis with miraculous speed; a police inspector (Daniel Mays) trying to expose the bad doctor’s experiments, which makes perfect sense except he’s portrayed as a villain; and a rival scientist (Freddie Fox) out to steal Frankenstein’s research who would twirl his moustache if he weren’t so clean-cut. Most of this is tedious instead of unintentionally amusing, although Victor Frankenstein does occasionally dole out a good bit, such as the vain doctor’s worrying that “No one will remember the man, only the monster!” This time, both will be quickly forgotten.
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Daniel Mays, Freddie Fox, Charles Dance.
Director: Paul McGuigan.
Screenwriter: Max Landis.
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 109 minutes. Violence, disturbing images. Playing at area theaters.