Mary Shelly's eponymous doctor seems to have been cropping up a lot lately in my personal excursions into the Hammer back catalogue, so I suppose it was only inevitable that a look at Paul McGuigan's latest version of the story would have to be done sooner or later. It must be a problematic affair for anyone trying to consider what kind of fresh meat could possibly be brought to the table. Modern attempts have hardly been successful from the appearance of the creature in Stephen Sommers' Van Helsing or the Aaron Eckhart version in I, Frankenstein. These kinds of releases should really serve as some kind of warning that this should all be left alone, much like the message of the original novel with it's warning about meddling with science and parental responsibility. But with such obvious templates of what not do to in recent memory has anyone taken note of the pitfalls to try and avoid? Or is this another film that will simply conjure up more jokes about ill fitting parts being haphazardly stitched together?
The initial problems start to appear in the opening narration in which they try and introduce Frankenstein's assistant Igor as a crippled circus performer with a scientific mind, just waiting for the right intervention to set him on a path which will put his skills to better use. The idea of reinventing the characters is not inherently an issue by itself, but they don't really keep the focus on Igor enough as things progress. His personal conflict is just one of many different elements fighting for attention, which renders the attempt at creating a new perspective on events mostly pointless. They try and make him sympathetic and force in a bit of romantic melodrama along the way, but it would have worked a lot better if the struggle between his moral sensibilities and Victor's ego took centre stage. Or if he wasn't so easily "cured". The same old debates on whether it's right to create life from death are brought up but never taken anywhere interesting, even when a subplot involving a overly religious detective looking into their work comes along.
James McAvoy does a reasonable job as Victor, going from calculating and ambitious to drunken and hyperactive depending on the plot requirements. It's nothing new for the character but does the job as things spiral out of control. Daniel Radcliffe isn't great to be fair and still lacks the sort of charisma this kind of lead part demands. In spite of the script adding plenty of moments of empathy he comes across as flat much of the time. A random appearance from Charles Dance as Frankenstein senior puts everyone to shame and adds a certain dramatic weight that is lacking elsewhere as he chastises his son, so it's a shame they only left him with one scene in the film. Perhaps there was a larger part lost in the final cut, it certainly feels like something is missing. But the performances are left to handle a mixed bag of ideas which don't gel together and are never explored far enough to be satisfying.
Reinventing the plot from another character's perspective is a nice idea but in the end it's just the same story found in countless other iterations. Victor's own personal issues are thrown in at the last minute to add some kind of spin on his motivation but like other moments it feels disjointed and he lacks any serious character development. The movie looks great when they are inside real sets or locations, but there are many visual effects vistas which are not convincing which is a shame since swapping the location from Geneva to London offers some good Victorian backdrops. The best sequence showing the first attempt at raising the dead involves a reassembled animal coming to life and running wild during a lecture, with twitching body parts and sparking live wires offering some great horror visuals as things go awry.
But like other moments along the way it promises more than is delivered in terms of creativity and entertainment. They throw in flourishes here and there like slow motion during chases and a kind of x-ray 'doctor vision' where you see Igor or Victor working out the inside structure of a body, yet it feels like these are taken from other sources just to modernise the look of the film. With the wealth of imaginative elements that could have been applied to this story it seems as though nobody could decide what worked, and so most of it doesn't. Considering the genre, things simply lack any real sense of drama or, more vitally, horror.