Everything old is new, that seems to be the catchphrase movie makers are following. Franchises from 10 to 50 years ago can still come back in a big new way; even though we’ve been told the same story a hundred times at this point. One has to wonder if there is anything left to tell, or in the case of studio executives; is there any more money to actually be made here? After the meager results of Universal’s “Dracula Untold”, another Universal classic monster gets a new spin, only in this case; the monster’s creator takes top billing for the first time in “Victor Frankenstein.” Favoring steampunk action over gothic horror, can this film resurrect a franchise as old and dead as the monster himself? Let’s find out as we do as the tagline suggests and “meet our makers” in this review.
Once a nameless punching bag for a cruel circus act, Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) receives freedom and a name from a mysterious man obsessed with using spare body parts for his twisted experiments. That man is Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy), a brilliant but unusual genius working on a secret project that he needs Igor’s expert medical assistance with. Unfortunately, their work bears monstrous fruit that draws the attention of an inspector (Andrew Scott), now both their lives are in increasingly large amounts of danger as they attempt to finish their wicked work. Though the film is called “Victor Frankenstein”, it’s made critically clear that Igor is the center storyteller; everything is told from his POV. This film is more of a thriller or a comedic drama than a horror story. Yes there are monsters and gruesome experiments, but this plays more like a slightly darker Robert Downey Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” movie than a monster movie.
What interested me from the very beginning was the casting. McAvoy and Radcliffe is the dream team no one realized we needed, but after seeing this film, I think we need them together a lot more often. They are the perfect dynamic duo of mad scientists, their chemistry is flawless and the way they talk and interact; you’d swear they’ve been friends for years. I think it’s their unique energy and personal charisma that makes McAvoy such a fascinating take on Victor’s character. He’s a lively, chatty, mind-going-a-mile-a-minute kind of person, that you get too sucked into him to let the gravity of his depraved work really sink in, it also helps explain why Igor has such faith in a man that is so clearly flawed. It’s a nice sense of comradery that really sells the film and allows the two actors to excel and expand in their perfectly casted roles.
The rest of the cast doesn’t sparkle as perfectly as Radcliffe and McAvoy do, or maybe it’s just their involvement becomes awkwardly strained as the film progresses. Igor’s love interest played by Jessica Brown Findlay starts out promising, but her role becomes less interesting and more generic when their relationship and characterizations should be blossoming. The same can be said for Andrew Scott. His introduction and obsession with faith and disgust towards Victor’s scientific perversions made for an interesting and clever foil for Victor. But, Scott became lost in his own character’s delusions that he become too one note to make him credible anymore. It’s like the writer forgot how to transition these characters into the third act and just let their initial introductions serve as the sole basis for how they must act all the time.
Another unfortunate flaw comes from one of the better aspects of the film: the monsters. They have a striking, unique design and bring a spark of danger to every scene they’re in. The problem is there just isn’t enough of screen time for them. The film sprints at a very fast pace and it never really slows down, which isn’t a bad thing, it actually helps move the movie along and it manages to cram a great deal of time and content into its running time. Overall, “Victor” gets a bad rap and this really isn’t a film that warrants such disrespect. Yes, it’s got problems and doesn’t exactly know how to properly handle everything it’s assembled on screen, but it’s a highly entertaining unique take on a story that reinvents old characters for the better if you ask me. It’s fun, it’s fresh, it’s leading stars are a perfect match and it delivers a satisfying experience that proves that not everything that’s dead and buried needs to stay that way.