Oh boy. I knew we were in trouble when commercials for I, Frankenstein proudly proclaimed “from the producers of Underworld” – a stamp of approval some movie watchers might not see as a positive endorsement. All I heard every time the ad played was, “Do you like dark, murky, mainstream horror flicks that are drawn out to the point of redundancy? THEN YOU’LL LOVE I, FRANKENSTEIN!”
As expected, Kevin Grevioux’s story bears entirely too many similarities to the Underworld franchise, from the dimly lit, heavily filtered visuals to the warring factions (substitute Lycans and vampires for demons and gargoyles) and the one “savior” who can stop it all. Here’s the real, honest commercial pitch we should be getting – “do you like shiny beams of light, rabid pyrotechnic fighting, and massive architectural destruction?!” If so, do I have the January time-waster for you!
Years ago, Victor Frankenstein created a monster out of graveyard body scraps and proved deceased tissue could be reanimated and brought back to life. After being left for dead, the creature (Aaron Eckhart) seeks revenge on his creator, killing his wife and driving Victor to his own foolish death. Thinking the pain would subside, our creature finds himself in the middle of a war between gargoyles and demons because Victor’s knowledge could be a demon-aiding game-changer. Why? Who? How do things escalate so quickly? Who cares, Aaron Eckhart gets the chance to send demons to hell and gargoyles to heaven, but eventually a side has to be taken. Will the creature, named Adam, back the gargoyles who initially saved him?
Here’s the problem – I almost feel like giving I, Frankenstein a passable rating because it does everything a January “action” flick promises. You’ll get heavily rendered CGI fight scenes, plenty of funky visuals between the flying gargoyles and shape-shifting demons, and Eckhart does kick some ass as Franky, but holy heavens is this production terrible at conveying plot material. Am I the only one who wondered where all the citizens in our industrial city were hiding? When Adam scopes out that fancy club scene in the opening act, there are background characters who aren’t gargoyles or demons. As the film advances, these characters disappear, especially when Gideon (Jai Coutnrey) destroys an entire apartment complex with absolutely no repercussions.
The unfortunate destruction cased by this massive demon/gargoyle war becomes downright silly at points, as hidden machines malfunction and monsters take down entire structures, yet not a single person reports the suspicious beams of light both flying into the sky and down into Hell, along with the obliterated buildings and demolished homes. Are people already privy to the gargoyles who come to life? You could write an entire companion screenplay answering all the nagging questions that I, Frankenstein gleefully neglects to answer, but we’re just here to watch a pretty-boy monster beat some satanic ass, right?!
After suffering through The Legend of Hercules a few short weeks ago, seeing the term “3D” unearths deeply suppressed memories of post-converted eyesores and absolute visual atrocities. Luckily, director Stuart Beattie actually understands that three dimensional technologies are supposed to elevate a film’s presence instead of just squeeze a couple extra bucks from a movie ticket, and I, Frankenstein sports some glossy 3D action sequences with a crisp bite. All the gears are oiled and the exterior is nicely polished, which presents a film that runs through the typical genre motions with a wistful easiness that never negatively hinders any of the high-flying action and creature focused action. Kevin Grevioux’s war between gargoyles and demons gives horror fans a scenario not previously seen before, exploring in-flight combat while spiralling flames shoot in all directions to signify evil souls descending down into the depths of Hell – a fun ride for thrill seekers needing a little variety in their life.
Frankenstein purists need to curb their expectations, because Aaron Eckhart’s character is a new interpretation of the classic, iconic monster. Adam, as he’s named in I, Frankenstein, appears as a cleaner incarnation of Franky because why take the time to sew ten different body parts together when you can harvest a perfectly intact corpse and just replace some of the insides? Scrap the neck bolts and the flat top, because Aaron’s muscly physique will have ladies debating the ethics of fantasizing about a reanimated corpse. I mean, it’s not necrophilia if he used to be dead, right? (Always reaching for that new low!) Anyways, yes, Aaron’s take on Frankenstein isn’t the typical lumbering giant variety we’re used to seeing, as this monster is more man than beast, and Eckhart brings a wonderful amount of physicality to the role that portrays Mary Shelley’s original creation as more of an action star – not a hideous haunter.
I, Frankenstein is a Gothic beatdown without much story to fall back on, remixing Frank for a younger, hipper generation. It’s the kind of PG-13 mainstreamer that borrows ideas from the horror genre but cranks the R-rated levels of gory scares down for mass market appeal, banking on Aaron Eckhart’s star power to pack empty seats. With this mentality, there’s a certain level of success achieved through scenes of demon-bashing action, but I feel like we only begin to understand Adam as a character, which slyly leaves the door open for future sequels – but will box office numbers beg for more Franken-sanity? Only time will tell.
I, Frankenstein delivers what it promises, but focusing solely on mass destruction and shapeshifting gargoyles leaves little time to develop Adam as a rich, full character - that's what sequels are for, right?