This isn’t Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. That much should be made immediately clear by the “3D” tacked onto the title of this CGI-fueled fantasy actioner, but any lingering doubts are quickly dispelled moments into I, Frankenstein, when the famed creature (given the name Adam and played by the far-too-handsome Aaron Eckhart) is forced to defend himself against sharp-toothed demons whilst burying his creator.
He just about has time to “descend” those demons, sending them back to Hell in pillars of flame, before being scooped up by two gargoyles and brought before their queen, Lenore (Miranda Otto). Turns out, Adam is a missing link of sorts, and both the demons and the gargoyles, who’ve been warring for centuries, want him. Showing surprising intelligence for a recently reanimated corpse, he backs away from both species, opting for a life of eternal solitude until he’s discovered and dragged back into the fray.
It’s unclear when or where exactly I, Frankenstein is set, and it’s also unclear how much humankind knows about the secret war between gargoyles and demons that spills out onto the streets. That’s just three of probably hundreds of questions left unanswered by co-writer/director Stuart Beattie and co-writer/actor Kevin Grevioux, whose Darkstorm Studios graphic novel the film is based upon. The pair aren’t concerned with building a comprehensive universe or explaining logistics; the fact that I, Frankenstein was advertised as being “from the producers of Underworld” should indicate the depth of storytelling on display.
I, Frankenstein does gain points, however, for never even pretending to make sense. Released theatrically back in the barren cinematic graveyard of January, this is a pedal-to-the-metal, effects-driven, bargain-bin sort of deal. That it doesn’t masquerade as anything more is somewhat refreshing. All audiences want to see is Adam, boasting an action hero’s ripped physique and a grizzled voice familiar to fans of The Dark Knight trilogy, kick some demon ass. And Eckhart, in absolutely terrific shape, is more than happy to oblige, jumping and twisting across the screen like an actor half his age. Some of the action sequences in I, Frankenstein, particularly a one-on-one fight to the death between Adam and demon warrior Zuriel (Socratis Otto), are thrilling and creative enough to momentarily distract from the paper-thin script.
Unfortunately, it’s damn near impossible to always look past a film that so blatantly and liberally pours clichés into its story. Most of the dialogue is downright laughable, and the character development is paint-by-numbers basic, at best. If as much time had been spent honing a clear, compelling narrative as was used to render the eye-catching visuals, there might have been a good movie in I, Frankenstein. Sadly, that’s just not the case here.
The faux-Gothic tone is grating enough to make me remember Underworld favorably (I’ll let that sentiment sink in for a moment), and a half-hearted attempt at opening the film up for a sequel plainly reeks. Grevioux clearly had lofty ambitions for this story, and that he attempts to repurpose Frankenstein as an action hero is applaudably ballsy, but there’s so much left out in the screenplay that it becomes more trouble than it’s worth to try to piece together what he was going for.
Eckhart makes a good majority of it bearable. He understands the level of depth (aka: none) in Beattie and Grevioux’s story, and the actor responds to that by turning Adam into a physically compelling, screen-filling, completely badass hero. Watching him dispatch demon after demon, dodging flames and never even hinting at a smile, should get old, but Eckhart’s enthusiasm helps it work.
Bill Nighy, playing demon prince Naberius, really knows how to slum it, having turned up in Underworld, Wrath of the Titans, Total Recall and now this, but he chews the scenery with a swanky zeal that oddly makes me respect him more as an actor. Miranda Otto looks like she’s having a little less fun, but that might just be the one-note character she’s forced to portray. And as one of her right-hand gargoyles, Jai Courtney proves again why he’s one of the most unabashedly wooden actors working today.
On the human side, we’ve got Chuck‘s Yvonne Strahovski, whom I’d watch in anything, struggling with the criminally underwritten part of scientist Terra, who has been unknowingly helping Naberius in his quest to build an army of demon-possessed reanimated corpses. She’s given basically nothing to do, but that the actress emerges from this film unscathed is a small miracle in of itself. Strahovski doesn’t have much to do by way of fight scenes, a shame considering how action-heavy her Chuck role was, but she just about sells her completely ludicrous lines, and that’s enough.
As an action movie, I, Frankenstein definitely fulfills its quota of bright fireballs and intense fight scenes. That alone will be enough to please some undemanding viewers. But anyone who wants some brains, heart or soul to go along with the impressive presentation will be left unsatisfied. Perhaps appropriately for a movie about a reanimated corpse, I, Frankenstein is pretty much as narratively lifeless as they come.
The quality of its story notwithstanding, Lionsgate gave I, Frankenstein a slick, impressive video package. The 1080p HD Blu-Ray comes with 3D and 2D versions – unlike past 3D outings, Beattie understands how to use 3D to enhance a scene, and the video transfer does a solid job of downsizing the 3D while keeping it immersive and enjoyable. Outside of those effects, this film is filled with inky blacks and rich detail. Fans of Underworld will be pleased with just how dark and gritty I, Frankenstein feels, and action aficionados will appreciate the pleasingly vibrant explosions and action effects. I never noticed any flatness or distracting glitches with the video.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is generally sufficient to balance the crisp, urgent dialogue and huge background sound effects during battle sequences, though it occasionally struggles to keep the audio even and clear. Nothing crucial is lost, so it’s ultimately a small quibble, and some of the fight sequences have absolutely superb sound that did wonders to draw me in.
The Blu-Ray comes equipped with a modest set of special features, including:
- Audio Commentary by Co-Writer/Director Stuart Beattie
- Audio Commentary by Filmmakers Gary Lucchesi, Richard Wright, James McQuaide, and Kevin Grevioux
- “Creating a Monster” featurette (13:03)
- “Frankenstein’s Creatures” featurette (14:17)
- Ultraviolet and iTunes HD Digital Copies
Both audio commentaries are fairly fun to listen to. Beattie’s enthusiasm for his film comes across right away, and he never runs out of stuff to say, commenting on everything from the actors to filmmaking techniques (his explanation of why long shots are preferable is particularly thorough and interesting) to his thoughts on the evolution of the film from Grevioux’s novel to the final film.
The commentary featuring Lucchesi, Wright, McQuaide and Grevioux is oddly a little quieter, but all four get a chance to provide thoughtful insights into the film. It’s clear, even more than on other film commentaries that I’ve listened to, that all four respect each other as integral parts of getting this film made, and that makes their interactions terrific to hear, though you’d have to be a huge fan of I, Frankenstein to want to listen to two essentially full-length commentaries.
“Creating a Monster,” as you might have guessed from its title, turns the spotlight on the visual creation of Adam and the assorted creatures around him. The prosthetic makeup procedures implemented on this film were obviously lengthy, and it’s very cool to see the actors get in the makeup chairs and be transformed into fantastical characters. The costuming in the film is also commented upon, and the designers clearly put a lot of thought into how what each character was wearing could inform their initial role in the story and evolution throughout it.
“Frankenstein’s Creatures” covers a lot of ground, exploring Kevin Grevioux’s motivations for using Frankenstein’s monster as an antihero, how writer/director Stuart Beattie approached creating an entire world of monstrous entities around Adam, and what various actors and actresses thought of playing ancient monsters. It’s a slickly made featurette which blends some interesting insights from the cast and crew with action-packed film footage.
I couldn’t get past the gaping plot holes and formulaic execution of I, Frankenstein, though it’s humbling to see the amount of work that went into making it. The acting is generally strong, and the battle sequences provide that requisite oomph that so many modern action flicks lack, which should be enough for most undemanding fans of the genre. This Blu-Ray package is typically excellent, and there’s nothing in the video or audio quality that should prevent you from picking up a copy if you’re interested. Just don’t expect anything more than an empty-headed, pretty-looking action spectacular, and I, Frankenstein will easily divert your attention for an hour and a half.
Though Aaron Eckhart and strong action sequences make it bearable, I, Frankenstein is haphazardly cobbled together from the corpses of better films - including, somehow, Underworld.