I, Frankenstein is the worst theatrically released film I have seen in three years. As random as that three year metric might seem, that’s about how long it’s been since it became my job to watch and review films and conduct interviews around them. This is the only measurement I can use because if I ever started watching a film as bad as this before then, I almost surely turned it off.
I’m not trying to be hurtful or snarky when I come at the film this negatively. If there were some redeeming qualities to it, perhaps I could be more playful. But I’m going to have to give this film such a low score that I want to be clear that there’s no sport involved here. I don’t have a vendetta against it and I don’t wish any harm to its makers, but I can’t think of a single person who might enjoy this movie. I’m not even sure who it’s for. It’s rated PG-13 but I can’t think of a single 13 year old who could buy into the mythology presented here. I can’t think of a single 13 year old who wouldn’t get tired of almost every passionless frame.
I, Frankenstein begins with the demise of Victor Frankenstein, who freezes to death trying to hunt and kill his abominable monster, Adam (Aaron Eckhart). Adam feels compelled to give Frankenstein a proper burial and he travels back home in order to do so, at which point he (and Frankenstein’s reanimation sketch book) becomes embroiled in a war between Gargoyles (who are essentially Angels) and Demons. He’s taken by force to the Gargoyle castle by Gideon (Jai Courtney) and they all pretty much decide he should be destroyed. That’s when the Gargoyle Queen (Miranda Otto) steps in, sees something worth saving in Adam’s soulless eyes and decides to release him.
Adam spends 200 years practicing martial arts in the mountains before he is thrust back into the whole Gargoyle vs. Demon thing in the present day. There’s a Demon Prince named Naberius (played by Bill Nighy – the only person in the movie who seems vaguely alive) who is also the CEO of a company that’s trying to perfect reanimation via electricity in order to bring an army of the dead to life so the Demons can possess them because they have no souls. The beautiful Terra (Yvonne Strahovski) is the innocent electrophysiologist tasked with making this happen. It turns out that either Adam or Frankenstein’s journal (it doesn’t much matter which) would be pretty helpful in making this happen. You know what happens from here.
What you don’t yet know is that there isn’t a single commendable decision in the entire film. Sure they hired a bunch of good-to-great actors, but they’re wasted. Eckhart is a hugely charismatic performer but the role is hellbent on draining all of that away in service of proving his character doesn’t have a soul, a somewhat successful gambit until you realize it leaves the film without one as well. The CGI is far from convincing or even being aesthetically pleasing, serving only to hammer home the video game trappings this movie has no intention of escaping. When a good die guys, there’s a flash of blue light as he ascends to heaven. Bad guy? Red light as he descends to hell. It’s a cool bit of shorthand that’s quickly beaten to death, littering every “epic” battle scene with cheap flashes of light intended to serve as a meter of who’s winning the thing as opposed to establishing any sort of memorable action sequence. The dialogue is just brutally bad exposition getting us from scene to scene without a hint of anything idiosyncratic or unique that might threaten to bring these characters to life.
I think the true issue with this movie, what makes it so profoundly unengaging, can be found in its contentedness to simply ape the Underworld movies. It’s the exact same thing. Two sets of clashing creatures. A supernatural protagonist caught in the middle. A war that has raged on into the present day (unbeknownst to humanity). A lot of blue color grading. But here’s the thing – the Underworld movies aspired to be more. They weren’t great, but they tried. There was some sort of gothic Shakespearean goal they were grabbing at and, no matter how badly their reach exceeded their grasp, the fact that they were reaching at all made some of them almost watchable. I, Frankenstein doesn’t have that ambition. It reaches only to be an Underworld movie and as a result falls far short of even that modest goal.
Much like its central monster I, Frankenstein is stitched together, less than the sum of its parts and has no soul. Let’s not revive him for a sequel.