I’ve always found the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation to be my favorite of the classic monsters. Not only are there intriguing science fiction elements that bring up a lot of great questions on parental responsibility and the role science plays in our society’s progress, but Mary Shelley’s original novel features two extraordinarily fascinating lead characters. It’s no surprise that further iterations of the tale have also spawned intriguing characters that have become as integral to the Frankenstein mythology as Shelley’s original text.
That makes Victor Frankenstein‘s decision to tell its version of the story through the eyes of a new character, Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), a promising jumping-off place. While his namesake comes from Bela Legosi’s Ygor from Son of Frankenstein, he’s something of an amalgamation of Fritz from Frankenstein and the hunchback Daniel from House of Frankenstein. Igor is a great and sympathetic protagonist who is saved from his life of servitude as a circus clown by Victor (James McAvoy) due to Igor’s self-taught knowledge about human anatomy. This is displayed in a scene where Igor and Victor work together to save the life of fallen trapeze artist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), who Igor is obviously smitten with.
I really enjoyed the first act or so of Victor Frankenstein. The setup of these two characters becoming friends works well. Radcliffe is a complete show-stealer as Igor, bringing awe, sweetness, and intelligence to his role. McAvoy is ramping things way past eleven for his take on the ghoulish doctor, running around with a motormouth and the energy of a hyperactive thirteen year old. It’s not leaving any room for nuance, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable to watch. And the movie as a whole is excellently paced, never resting on its laurels or straying too far from the core conceit of Victor and Igor’s ongoing experiments.
But, somewhere in the middle of the film, a deadly entropy begins to creep in. Our dynamic duo have fallen under the suspicions of Inspector Roderick Turpin (Andrew Scott), a devoutly religious man who diligently pursues Frankenstein due to his faith’s disapproval of what Frankenstein is trying to accomplish. There’s also a rich benefactor, Finnegan (Freddie Fox), who ends up funding Frankenstein’s experiments for his own nefarious purposes. Not only does this give the film two competing antagonists, but they become indefensibly pointless by the time the film’s climax rolls around. In fact, this movie didn’t need any outside threats to its characters.
Victor Frankenstein should have been the film’s antagonist. The idea of Igor being saved by Frankenstein and feeling loyal to him is an ingenious conceit, and the film would have been much better served if Victor was the only one causing calamity due to his zealous drive. In a leaner version of Max Landis’ script, Frankenstein is both Igor’s best friend and his worst enemy. There’s a through line in the film about Victor considering Igor his creation (especially since Victor cures him of his physical deformity) which leads Igor to question whether Victor is his friend or his master. That alone is enough conflict to fill a story without having to resort to one-dimensional bad guys trying to stop our leads.
All of this comes tumbling down by the film’s climax. Much like the Hammer Frankenstein films, this version is far more focused on the titular scientist than the creature that usurped his name. The creature shows up in the climax and other than looking like a nod to David Prowse’s version from Horror of Frankenstein, it’s an incredible disappointment. You may consider this next bit a spoiler, so skip to the next paragraph if you want to stay pure and clean. In this version, Victor is trying to create life in order to make up for the accidental death of his older brother Henry. We do get a hint of this backstory when Victor is visited by his disappointed father (Charles Dance! Oh, but he’s wasted for just one scene), but it’s not made clear until it’s spilled on us near the very end of the movie. A big emotional element is rushed out at the end, and it makes a lot of the finale feel equally rushed.
It’s also disheartening that Lorelei, who becomes equally infatuated with Igor, is completely sidelined by the film’s end. She’s shown to be a strong source of support for Igor and represents his chance at living a normal life. She challenges Igor to confront Victor about the dangerous nature of his work (which she sees firsthand when a stitched-together chimpanzee goes *sigh* apeshit) and won’t let him go alone to stop Victor at the end. But then she’s just left out of the climax completely. It’s a shame since I liked her relationship and story with Igor, but by the film’s end she was totally unnecessary.
Victor Frankenstein is disappointingly okay. It starts off incredibly strong (the first act has one of the best gross-out moments of 2015 involving the removal of Igor’s hump) and slowly degrades as it rushes to its predetermined conclusion. There’s a great version of this lurking beneath its overstuffed script and uninspiring direction (which I didn’t mention because director Paul McGuigan doesn’t do anything worth mentioning, good or bad) that I think I’d love, especially with these two lead actors and their characters. Oh well, I guess I’ll just wait until they resurrect this story next time.