I, FRANKENSTEIN Review

There is little to say about a film or anything really when it feels the "artists" behind it didn't care enough to invest their own interests in it. There is little vision to be held with something like I, Frankenstein as it is nothing more than a typical January release, an ugly step-sister to the summer blockbusters that have equally silly stories or premises, but real vision and money behind them. With something like I, Frankenstein what we have is the writer of such blockbusters as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and the first G.I. Joe, but who also has more credible fare like Australia (c'mon you know you liked it) and Collateral to his name and has now apparently earned the right to direct his own feature and so Lakeshore Entertainment, for some unknown reason, entrusted him with a rather large budget and gave him free reign to pen a script that concerned Victor Frankenstein's monster living on into the modern world and being caught in the middle of a war that has been raging between demons and gargoyles. Sound ridiculous? It is. Its essentially another attempt to capitalize on bringing well known, well respected properties back to the big screen in more gritty fashion. It seems Stuart Beattie, the aforementioned writer turned director, decided he'd go just outside the realm of fairy tales and instead chose to pick from the iconic roster of horror figures and give them an all CGI environment with dark and brooding attitudes that would be fine if this were a substantial take on the gothic romanticism of Mary Shelley's source material, but instead it seems to want to achieve little more than box office success and disregards any sense of deeper storytelling in order to fit squarely into this pre-ordained January genre. It is an ugly genre, one where we get movies year in and year out like any one of the Underworld films (which this so proudly touts as being produced by the same people) or last years Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters or even Season of the Witch from two years ago (see a trend?). It is one of those films, set in a period where set designs call for grotesque statues and worn out castles, where CGI baddies look ridiculous and we forget about character and story the moment we walk out of the theater. You'd think, given Beattie's track record in writing he would jump at the chance to make his own film and be keen on leaving a good impression so as to earn another turn behind the camera, but if I, Frankenstein is any indication he should never be allowed to direct or pen a script again.

Adam (Aaron Eckhart) is immediately smitten with Terra (Yvonne Strahovski)
for no other reason than the script calls for it.
We begin with promising helicopter shots across beautiful landscapes that will serve as a way to emphasize the loneliness Frankenstein's monster experiences when being cursed with what isn't necessarily immortality, but close enough. Unfortunately that is the only time you'll read the word "promising" in this review. The film then segways into the backstory about how the monster killed Dr. Frankenstein's wife out of some sort of vengeance that is later revealed to have something to do with the fact that Frankenstein never created a partner for him (though it would have been more compelling had they just stuck with the original story here). None of this ultimately matters though because Dr. Frankenstein is dead within the first five minutes of the film and the real emphasis is placed when a horde of demons come out of nowhere to attack Frankenstein's monster in hopes of kidnapping him. On the other side of things are the gargoyles who also come out of nowhere to save Frankenstein's monster from the demons, but are impressed when he is able to handle himself rather well and "descend" a few of the demons on his own, something they've never seen any other human do. But he's not human! Then what are you? I'm a monster! It is all very melodramatic and even for the talented cast involved here it is just too much and too poorly executed for anyone to take remotely seriously. After being taken in, questioned and given the name Adam by the Queen of the gargoyles, Leonore (Miranda Otto), Adam is set free to wander the earth and stay hidden until he decides it is time for him to fight back against those who hunt him. It takes him two hundred years to come around to this decision, but no biggie because he's got the time. This ushers Adam into the present day where the fact he looks like Aaron Eckhart doesn't stick out as much and the scars and stitches across his face are nothing compared to the distraction of that chin. He returns to the cathedral where the gargoyles dwell only to cause more harm than good when one of Naberius' (why Bill Nighy why?!?!) henchmen catches up with him and brings a small army with him allowing for some early action, but demolishing half of the gargoyles which doesn't sit well with Leonore's right hand man, Gideon (Jai Courtney aka John McClane Jr.). Naberius is the big baddie who has hired a human scientist to re-create Frankenstein's work so that he may re-animate the thousands of corpses he's been collecting with descended demons souls or something like that.

The real question, the only valid question the film proposes though is what happened to Aaron Eckhart? A movie like this is below the talented actor who, after The Dark Knight, I believed would have a prolific career that would produce several good films and performances, but his mix of direct-to-video movies combined with big action fare that has been more or less forgettable has made him that exact thing. He is completely undermining the great work he did in films like Rabbit Hole or Thank You For Smoking by volunteering his name to these Legion/Priest/Resident Evil knock-offs that Paul Bettany would have been better off taking. He's had some bearable turns in flops like The Rum Diary and supporting bits in successes like Olympus Has Fallen (did you already forget he was in that? I did), but the point of saying all that is to say he had the absolute best case scenario after playing Harvey Dent; he was poised for nothing but more success and he has failed to capitalize on it. That isn't to say he hasn't tried with something like Battle Los Angeles, but to end up headlining something like this is more than depressing. This kind of role and film seem destined for little more than the $5 bin at Wal-Mart. Almost more than the fact Eckhart has been resorted to this kind of work is how movies like I, Frankenstein even continue to get made. It truly baffles me. I'll admit I was slightly engaged by the film because of the visual element that, from the trailers, at least seemed to be going for something striking and it is hard to deny the scenery including the cathedral as less than striking, but Beattie's film is devoid of any real inventiveness or energy that one might expect from a first-time director. Like all of the above mentioned films to which I've compared I, Frankenstein it has this cheap fantasy element to it that doesn't come off as particularly original, but rather a mixed bag of references to better, more established material and archetypes taken from other genres of film that Beattie and many before him have applied to these age old stories with hopes of it somehow turning out to be something fresh. With as little an investment as everyone behind the scenes clearly had in this film though it has turned out to be nothing more than half-baked ideas set to typical action beats where our hero must save the world from something he's had a strong hand in creating himself and somehow wind up with the hot blond.

Aaron Eckhart may not be getting good roles, but at least he's getting in shape.
There could have been an interesting idea in here somewhere for a slightly fascinating  film or at least a character study that documented not only the main conflict of the source material with which Frankenstein's monster struggles with, but the idea that Leonore utters early on in the film that states God is no longer the single creator of life on earth. The film takes these mentions of both the internal conflict Adam deals with about not really being a full-fledged human and the idea of if he has an inherent soul or even the ability to sustain a soul and develop genuine emotion and does nothing with them instead tossing them aside on a sub-plot of a love story with the scientist Naberius hires, Terra (Yvonne Strahovski) , that shows no kind of progression or chemistry whatsoever but is simply the most convenient and so it is tacked on because it feels necessary. There is a good film in the form of a modern retelling using the themes Shelley was exploring in her story to be made, but I, Frankenstein doesn't exist for that purpose or even to tell a story through one persons specific vision but instead is brought to you by a committee of writers and executives attempting to cram everything they think clicks with general audiences into one movie in hopes of making a little extra cash in the doldrums of winter when people are looking for something entertaining and brainless to divert them from the onslaught of thought-provoking Oscar bait they've seen over the past few months. This is certainly brainless but at the same time it somehow can't even manage to be entertaining. By the end of the film we've seen demons who look like something out of Halloweentown run amok of this beautiful architecture (all shot in Australia by the way) while Bill Nighy, the great Billy Nighy who can usually turn a charming trick even in bland droll like this, ends up looking and sounding more like Paul Freeman as Ivan Ooze than anything remotely demonic. There is nothing redeeming about this. No performances stand to rise above the material or innovative storytelling techniques that withstand the amount of cliches that fill this experience with absolutely no surprises whatsoever. Everything about this screams that it was put together by a studio trying to do nothing more than piggy back on every hot idea that's worked in cinema recently, but I can only hope people have learned to detect these types of movies and are now well aware the best thing to do is steer clear of them because nothing good can come of it.