Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 109 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This somewhat modernized version of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ has a steampunk vibe, with action scenes involving a reanimated chimpanzee and human going on violent rampages, a scene where a man gets his hand caught in revolving gears (you see him with a bloody bandage and wooden hand afterward), people being electrocuted and killed, a father slapping his son in the face, and some hand-to-hand fighting; some kissing and an implied sex scene; a few curse words; and some gross-out stuff, including pus being drained from an abscess, pieces of corpses, flies feasting on rotting flesh, and a corpse with its eyes gouged out. None of it is particularly gory, but it is low-level grotesque.
‘Victor Frankenstein’ is often silly and mostly average, but its quirky weirdness, thanks mainly to an enjoyably over-the-top performance from James McAvoy, keeps things moving along.
By Roxana Hadadi
James McAvoy is usually the down-to-earth one. He’s the grounded Professor X in the new X-Men films, starring with the more bombastic Michael Fassbender as Magneto, and it took a lot for his put-upon Wesley to turn the corner into a take-no-crap assassin in “Wanted.” But in “Victor Frankenstein,” McAvoy gives a charming, devilish, almost deranged performance as the titular doctor. He is a smiling, seething, nearly possessed man, and the film works mostly – perhaps solely – because of his performance.
But it’s a disappointment that such a riveting turn comes in such a goofy film. McAvoy’s no-holds-barred approach to Mary Shelley’s most-well-known character brings to mind Eddie Redmayne’s work in this year’s “Jupiter Ascending,” which was also over the top and also gleefully absurd. There’s a measured calculation that McAvoy brings to Frankenstein, though, that Redmayne didn’t really accomplish in his portrayal of an alien fascist who wanted to harvest humans for an intergalactic capitalist scheme. (Yes, that description is ridiculous, and yes, you should rent “Jupiter Ascending” on DVD immediately.)
Ultimately, McAvoy is the best thing about “Victor Frankenstein,” which is inarguably a clear imitation of what director Guy Ritchie achieved with the “Sherlock Holmes” films starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Here, director Paul McGuigan and writer Max Landis (of “Chronicle”) add pretty much the same elements Ritchie used – modern bromance, action scenes, a talkative and brilliant jerk of an antihero – to modernize their depiction of Frankenstein. It ends up being fun if you don’t think too hard, and there is an interesting discussion about science vs. faith that tries to tap into Shelley’s original novel, but this is really a take-your-teens-and-zone-out kind of movie.
The film begins by acknowledging itself: “You know this story,” says Daniel Radcliffe (of “What If”), introduced as a deformed young man enslaved to a circus; they treat him as a hunchback clown, but his passion is science, medicine, and trapeze artist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay, of “Winter’s Tale”). When she falls from the trapeze one night, he rushes to her side and diagnoses her injury immediately, catching the attention of medical student Victor Frankenstein (McAvoy, of “X-Men: Days of Future Past”). Impressed by his knowledge, Frankenstein springs him from the circus, names him Igor, and invites him to join in his research. “Death can be made a temporary condition,” Frankenstein tells Igor, and although the idea seems impossible, soon they’re working on reanimating various body parts.
Together, they’re unstoppable, but eventually they attract the notice of Scotland Yard investigator Turpin (Andrew Scott, of “Spectre”), who believes Frankenstein’s work is Satanic and an act against God (“There’s no mercy in nature,” he warns), and wealthy fellow medical student Finnegan (Freddie Fox), who wants to commandeer their work for his own personal gain. Despite their significant strides forward, Frankenstein and Igor begin to grow apart, with a moral disagreement driving the schism: Is what they’re doing actually providing life? And if so, is it a life worth living?
“Victor Frankenstein” doesn’t really cover anything Shelley’s original work didn’t, and the argument that Igor and Frankenstein have about whether what they’re doing is actually scientifically worthwhile or simply going against the natural order is one that is covered at length in the book, too. For teens who haven’t read it, though, this is a straightforward distillation of those themes; interestingly, the movie doesn’t necessarily indict Frankenstein. It gives his ideology equal weight in his arguments with Turpin and Igor, and that objectivity would be interesting to further discuss with teens to see where they lie on the ideological spectrum.
It’s not like “Victor Frankenstein” is an amazingly insightful movie, but it is surprisingly thoughtful in its handling of Shelley’s narrative, and the performance from McAvoy is thoroughly good. It’s not wonderfully unique, but “Victor Frankenstein” uses its assets well enough.
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