There’s a trick to making a good ridiculous movie, and it’s not even a particularly clever one: Just accept that your movie is ridiculous and lean into it. So when the story you’re telling is about gargoyles battling demons over a 200-year old patchwork monster, I expect some sense of kooky fun, not a film as listless as a corpse, and bearing the same heady aroma. Unfortunately, that’s what you get with I, Frankenstein, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fantasy actioner written and directed by Stuart Beattie (Tomorrow When the War Began), which despite it’s outlandish elements ends up being completely paint-by-numbers. A dull black paint, of course.
For the record, I, Frankenstein is based on a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux (who also plays a demon musclehead in the movie), one of the main guys behind the Underworld franchise. And much like the literary scientist who gave this movie it’s name, Grevioux’s tale recycles parts from other gothic fantasy offerings like Underworld and Van Helsing and stitches them together into this new take on Mary Shelley’s Promethean parable. But just like the Boris Karloff version, this one mostly shuffles and growls incoherently.
A strategically and lightly scarred so that he’s still handsomely buff Aaron Eckhart stars as the titular doctor’s monster, who after being abandoned by his creator (cue woe-is-me angst and much wearing of hoodies) during the events of Shelley’s original tale has been wandering the earth for 200 years, because electrifying a human body apparently makes it immortal (I hope somebody has informed all those kids who stick their fingers in plug sockets). Along the way he also gets caught up in a secret war being waged between demons and gargoyles, the shape-shifting angelic protectors of the human race led by their Queen Lenore (Miranda Otto) – who names the abandoned monster Adam – and discovers that his special nature makes him a key part of the nefarious plans of the demon prince Niberius (Bill Nighy).
Now you couldn’t see it, but I was actually tossing up some air quotes around the words “secret war”, because in one of I, Frankenstein‘s many forehead slapping moments (the first resulting from the clunky title alone), you soon realize that humanity must live with literal blinkers on so as not to see the crazy pyrotechnics display that happens every time either a gargoyle or demon is killed. And they get killed a lot. For supernatural beings, having skin made out of tissue paper really wasn’t a wise design choice.
That being said, their explosive frailty in battle (it’s like an Olympics closing ceremony every time there’s a fight!) does give us one of the film’s few pluses, as some nice CG effects get put into play for some elaborately shiny death animations. Unfortunately the film’s visuals prowess is very inconsistent, with the stone gargoyles’ faces appearing cartoonish, the demons looking like they walked straight off the set of a cheaper episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and CG vistas apparently being built of digital mud. The film has occasional flashes of 3D competency, but the added dimension is also often lost in the gloom.
Speaking of gloomy, acting is almost uniformly a study in drudgery here, especially in the case of Eckhart who – in his attempt to give Adam more of a tortured soul appeal – mistakes a pained facial expression for gravitas. Oops. Yvonne Strahovski, as the obligatory attractive scientist lady/forced romantic interest usually found in these things, is, well, an obligatory attractive scientist lady/forced romantic interest and no more. While Jai Courtney, as Lenore’s muscle, punches way below his weight and just mean-mugs his way through every scene.
Bill Nighy, in all his fun Bill Nighy-ness, offers some respite from the grim and grime as he happily chews his dialogue and spits it out in that delectable fashion of his, giving the morbid proceedings a necessary kick in the pants whenever he’s on screen. Beattie also manages to choreograph a few action beats rather superbly, in particular a pulse pounding hand-to-hand (or rather metal rod to sword) fight between Adam and a demon lieutenant, and a spectacularly explosive engagement when a handful of gargoyles have to defend their punk rock cathedral home from a slavering demon horde.
But these few ticks in the win column is just not enough to rescue I, Frankenstein. There are some interesting story ideas to be found here that just never get explored (Why can’t the Gargoyles get more reinforcements from heaven? How does Adam’s immortality work?) and the concept – as Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V as it is – is just insane enough that it could have been fun, but it seems that only Nighy got that memo.
Alas, Igor, in the end this po-faced, schlocky bore is just not alive.
Last Updated: March 12, 2014