by Esther Elizabeth Suson
[GENERAL SPOILER ALERT]
When Victor Frankenstein (2015) came out, my best friend and I took notice at once. We had both just finished the novel in the last month or so, and the movie did come highly recommended (thank you Summer!).
Victor Frankenstein is, on the whole, a beautifully made, thoroughly enjoyable movie. The acting was good, especially James McAvoy’s portrayal of Victor Frankenstein. The cinematography contributed to the story-telling, and the pacing was good enough.
Unfortunately, like many another promising movie, it slipped into painfully avoidable elements that ended up distracting from the overall story.
1. Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) was brilliantly designed, but he fell out of character – avoidably and at major plot points
My favorite element of the movie is James McAvoy’s portrayal of Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein in this movie was designed as a scientist passionate to the bone about the restoration and creation of life.
While not the stereotypical wimpy geek, Frankenstein reminds one of another well-loved high functioning sociopath. He talks about the actual color of the brain over the dinner table, and stutters in public speaking.
Because he knows so little about human nature, Frankenstein also acts with charming disregard of its worse points. [SPOILERS AHEAD] When he takes Igor in, at the very start of the movie, it does not occur to him that the hunchback could be a thief or a murderer.
[MORE SPOILERS] All he knew – and cared about – was that Igor had a brilliant scientist’s mind and could help him in his research. This same disregard made him carelessly generous, giving Igor clothes, money, his own desk, and more.
This kind of selflessness also makes Frankenstein free and fervent in his praise. He withholds no admiration when he feels it, speaks it in so many words, and suffers no jealously in the meantime.
So well-drawn is his character, reckless and joyful and compelling, that the out-of-character scenes were all the more disappointing.
[MEGA SPOILERS GALORE FOR THE NEXT PARAGRAPHS]
The first out-of-character part is when Igor tries to slow Frankenstein down, to stop his experiments. Frankenstein asks Igor if he had forgotten that he, Frankenstein, had pulled him out of a meaningless existence.
The problem is, Frankenstein does not think that way. He is carelessly generous, not calculatingly so. If he thought Igor should obey him because of what he had done for him, Frankenstein would have brought it up instantly.
The problem was avoidable, because they could have kept the scene but changed the lines. “I pulled you out of the circus to help me.” (Well, something more elegant than that).
At the very least it should have reflected Frankenstein’s automatic consideration of function. After all, this is a man who called a corpse a “waste of space.”
[STILL GOT SPOILERS]
The second time Frankenstein breaks character is when the monster finally wakes up. Frankenstein looks into his eyes, sees no one there (no soul, in a manner of speaking), and says, “This is not life.”
That is not the Frankensteinian mode of thought either. Frankenstein feels more like the kind of man to curse his stupidity at thinking he could do it (like he does earlier, when his father visits).
That or, scientist-like, he would throw himself into figuring out what went wrong this time. That would have made more of whatever statement the movie was trying to make – Frankenstein hunting explanations while the monster kills all around him.
They tried too hard to redeem a character that needed no redeeming. The narrator of the story, and the actual focus story, was on Igor. In attempting his redemption, the writers simply pulled him out of character.
2. The animation was skillfully used for storytelling
[MINOR SPOILERS ALL OVER]
One of the most beautiful elements of the movie is the animation. In this movie, both Frankenstein and Igor have a profound admiration for the inner workings of living creatures. We, the audience, find the same through their eyes.
The animation first appears while Igor is watching a female acrobat on a flying trapeze. As she arches her back mid-flight, the motion slows. Through Igor’s eyes we see her skeletal and muscle systems traced, and the red of her lungs and heart.
As an acrobat on a flying trapeze, the she was stunning. With all the grace and beauty of her movements traced in perfect limb and muscle coordination, and in the circles described by her arms and legs, the view was breathtaking.
The animation is used throughout one of the movie as one of the most effective storytelling means I have ever seen. The building of Frankenstein, the scientific explanations, all were enhanced by the animation. Nothing passes over the audience’s heads from lack of sufficient illustration.
3. The antagonist was well-acted, but badly written
The actor of detective Roderick Turpin is Andrew Scott, distinguished by his portrayal of Jim Moriarty in BBC Sherlock. At the start of the movie, he suspects Frankenstein of various petty thefts towards some [probably sinister] end. Turpin turns into a formidable opponent.
Scott portrays Roderick Turpin brilliantly. He has the screen presence to rival McAvoy’s, and his lines were delivered in that splinter-under-your-skin way that makes Moriarty so frustratingly powerful.
However, and it was another completely avoidable slip, Turpin was badly written. [SPOILER ALERT] Turpin was brilliant, sure. He tricked Frankenstein into speaking too much in front of him, and stayed at most a half-step behind the whole way.
However, they could have kept Turpin brilliant, and made him [however so wrongly] pursue Frankenstein for murder. Instead, Turpin was turned into a religious fundamentalist, angry at Frankenstein’s attempts at playing God. He even had a dead wife, to throw tragedy into the story.
Focusing well on just one of those themes would have pulled together a compelling opponent. As it was, with so many scattered motives for chasing Frankenstein down, Turpin was disappointingly weak.
4. The plot twist was good, but it came too late
[MAJOR SPOILER ALERT]
The main plot twist, as far as I could figure out from the movie progression, was the discovery of Frankenstein’s motive in creating his monster. (He actually called it his monster, by the way).
As the story continues, we find out Frankenstein and his older brother Henry went out to play in the snow when they were kids. An unexpected blizzard resulted in Henry’s death, because he used his body to shelter Frankenstein.
It is to compensate for a life Frankenstein feels he took, that he is creating life. That is consistent enough with the story. However, that revelation comes at the end climax of the story, and turns out anticlimactic.
There was not enough power in the twist to warrant all the build-up, and it would have not lost any strength if it were revealed any earlier. In fact, if it had been revealed earlier, the audience could then settle down to watch the story events instead of waiting on the twist.
5. There were many stylistic elements that contributed to the story, but too many characters who distracted from it
[MEDIUM-LEVEL SPOILERS ALL AROUND]
Let as take, as case in point, the existence of Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay). She plays Igor’s love interest in the movie. If her only purpose was to turn us green with envy at her dresses, and to [SPOILER] distract the guards at the last part of the movie, she fulfilled it.
Otherwise, what exactly was the use for her? She was not the motivation for Igor to get out of the life he first had, or the motivation for his interest in science. She was not even a voice of reason.
Another character who danced around the edge of importance was Finnegan, a son of the “third richest house in England.” Okay, fine, he was or became financier of Frankenstein’s experiments. However, Finnegan was just there.
His motives were unclear or uncompelling. He came off as a villain, but did not have to be – his presence weakened Turpin’s role. Besides providing a lovely castle in Scotland for Frankenstein to blow up, I am not sure he was absolutely necessary to the story.
Victor Frankenstein (2015): 6/10 Stars
My rating plummets for movies that reflect rational, brilliant writers and directors – who became lazy or sloppy in spots. The makers tended to cram as many details that they thought would work into Victor Frankenstein, without checking them for unity or consistency.
An obvious example is Roderick Turpin’s character: they made him a brilliant detective, decided that religious fanaticism would be an interesting touch, and gave him a dead wife for a source of bitterness. The details were fragmented, there was no real attempt to weave them together. Three individually good elements turned into a weak and sloppy villain.
This movie only gets 6 out of 10 stars because it set a high bar for itself that it failed to reach. For a 2-hour movie, it could have delivered so much more than it actually gave. I would watch it again, and I would show it to others, but not in the cinema.