You’ve heard the same whining for years now: “Hollywood have run out of ideas”. “They’re just doing remakes and reboots and sequels now.” “Oh look, another comicbook-to-movie adaptation – what a suprise”. Another popular trend is to take old gothic literary characters and to bring them into modern times. From the laughably lame (Twilight) to seriously cool (Blade), vampire movies are still a major sub-genre of Hollywood. Werewolves have had their various treatments too (Underworld, Dog Soldiers). We’ve even got a new Moby Dick (re-titled Lost at Sea) coming out next year. Maybe that will inspire a spate of mutant killer whale movies.
Some of these films are good. Most are bad. But one fabled old bastard we haven’t seen for a while is Frankenstein. Save for a brief role in 2004’s Van Helsing, he’s been absent for years. Until now.
Back in the day (I’m talking 1795), crazy scientist Victor Frankenstein (Aden Young – Killer Elite), creates a monster (Aaron Eckhart – The Dark Knight) from the spare parts of dead people. Re-animated using electric eels, the creature goes mental, kills Frankenstein’s wife, then buggers off to the North Pole. Annoyed, Frankenstein goes after him for revenge. However, while he may be good at bringing corpses back to life, he doesn’t know shit about subzero survival, and promptly freezes to death.
The Monster finds his body (and the handy manual he wrote to create him), and carries him back to the Frankenstein family crypt (somewhere). As he buries the body, he’s attacked by a couple of demons. Now when I say demons, I don’t mean like that raging beast that pulls Gandalf off the bridge in The Lord of the Rings (the Balrog, for all you Tolkien dweebs). No, I, Frankenstein uses the term demons very loosely. In this sense, it refers to normal people who fly about a bit on wires and have occasional face makeup.
Being super strong (just because), the Monster kills one of the demon dudes. But he gets overwhelmed by the remaining attackers and all seems lost until a bunch of gargoyles (srsly) swoop down, assume human form and save our hero. They bring the unconscious creation, and the book, back to their leader in this massive cathedral in some city somewhere. After awakening, The Monster is met by the gargoyle queen, Leonore (Miranda Otto – The Two Towers), who explains that there is one of those old eternal wars being waged here on Earth.
Of course, the human populace know squat, but the angelic Order of the Gargoyles (who watch over all life) are locked in a secret conflict with the Demons (who want to conquer all life). And the demons are winning. Leonore’s chief warrior dude, Gideon (Jai Courtney – Terminator Genysis) thinks they should just kill the Monster and be done with it. He’s offended that some soulless being can exist that hasn’t been created by God. It’s quite a deep and interesting philosophical and theological quandary, but it’s Jai Courtney talking, so he just comes off as being a dick.
Most of the other gargoyles want him to stay, including Leonore. She even gives the Monster a name – Adam (how biblical). No humans have ever been able to kill a demon, so they figure he could be a formidable ally. But Adam doesn’t want to help – he’s pretty sure he’s heard this story before (was it Constantine, or Underworld). Leonore offers him sanctuary whenever he needs it, and grants him his pick of their holy weapons, should the demons ever come for him again. Instead of picking a wicked dagger, or an axe or Blade’s sword or something, he just opts for two metal clubs. They’re not even nightsticks, so he can’t pummel any stupid devil like The Big Boss Man would have done. Seriously Adam?
And with his little sticks, he leaves. As the years fly by (he doesn’t age), the demons come for him again and again, and he “descends” them – basically he sends their souls back to hell. He gets so tired of constantly being hunted, he decides to become the hunter. So, he may as well have joined the gargoyles after all. But he’s a tormented and hate-filled anti-hero. Plus, I wouldn’t want to chill with Jai either.
Cut to the present and he’s chasing some demonic dude in a nightclub. All the human inhabitants look down on Adam, because he’s scarred up and that. Plus he never smiles. However, this time, a cop gets caught in the crossfire, and is killed by a demon before Adam can intervene. The gargoyles find out about it, and bring Adam in for a talking to.
Meanwhile, one demon, who escaped the attack, reports to his master, the demon-prince Naberious (Bill Nighy – Underworld), that Adam is still alive. Naberious is masquerading as some British billionaire, called Charles Wessex. He lives in a stately home with a handy laboratory in the basement. He’s secretly waging the war against the gargoyles, and has a sinister plan to defeat them. All he needs is Adam (or better yet, the manual that explains how he was created) to put it into action.
When he isn’t warmongering he’s actually a pretty nice guy. His human employees like him, and he only ever flies off the handle when his feeble demon minions disappoint him. He’s perfectly sweet to the likes of Doctores Tarra Wade (Yvonne Strahovski – Killer Elite) and Carl Avery (Nicholas Bell – Dark City). He’s got them hard at work trying to learn the secrets of re-animation. But there’s no pressure. “Just keeping doing such great work!”.
Back in demon-prince mode, he orders his most formidable demon, Zuriel, to go and fetch Adam. He’s being held at Gargoyle HQ, and is being blamed for the death of the cop. Gideon is still all for killing him, but before Leonore can levy any kind of punishment, the demons attack in an overwhelming force.
Loads of demons and gargoyles die in a huge aerial battle. Which no one happens to see. Yeah, I understand that back in 1700’s, most people probably believed that demons and angels actually existed. If they happened to look out the window of their little mud hut and saw a bunch of winged dudes fighting in the air, they’d probably be all “Come on Jesus!” then get the hell on with their lives. However, when the film shifts to the present, no one seems to notice this conflict.
I failed to mention that demons explode in fire when they’re descended. Equally, angels rise to Heaven is a shower of bright light when they’re “ascended”. Seriously, the cathedral is that massive too, and the fight that mental, some poor sod would have to have seen it. Some reckless bastard would have filmed it on their iPhone too. In a day and age when we can access nude snaps of Jennifer Lawrence, someone somewhere would be aware of this eternal battle.
Anyway, Adam convinces one of the nicer angel dudes to release him. He agrees and Adam just buggers off after killing the odd demon. Sadly, Nice Angel Dude is killed, and Leonore is captured. Gideon arrives, though is reluctant to act with his Queen held hostage. He’s instead instructed to bring Adam to an abandoned theater. They’ll then trade Leonore for him. But Adam isn’t in the cell where Gideon left him. No, he’s off interrogating a demon, and learning their evil plan (by dunking his head in a bowl of holy water no less).
Without Adam, Gideon opts to take Frankenstein’s manual (which they’d saved in their vault). The trade is made, and Gideon flies off with Leonore just as Adam arrives (damn, what awkward timing – if only Victor had given him wings instead of a bad attitude). He smashes his way through a load of demons, and is led back to the Wessex Institute by Zuriel. As the doctors study Frankenstein’s book, Adam bursts in and takes it back. With the alarms tripped, everyone descends upon Adam, including the boss. Naberius isn’t mad, however. Even after all the damage he’s caused. But Naberius also doesn’t need him now (as he thinks he has the manual), but has no problem divulging his heinous plan – to re-animate the corpses of thousands of bodies he’s been collecting for centuries. Once alive again, the bodies will be soulless – perfect hosts for the returning souls of various demons that have been confined to Hell by Adam and the Gargoyles.
They’ve got a cool set up, deep under the institute. It’s like they’ve taken the blood farm from Daybreakers and the prison from Minority Report and just made them bigger. It’s even run by the great Bruce Spence (Mad Max 2).
Adam’s not too keen on this, though, and escapes by jumping out of the window. He falls through the ground and lands on a subway train. Being super-human, he’s still cool, and brushes it off. Later on, he tracks down Doctor Terra. She recognised the scarring in the manual, and realized that he was Frankenstein’s monsters. Naturally, she’s proper curious. Adam fills her in on the war, who he is and so fourth. But, Zuriel, knowing that he’d need someone to make sense of the manual, has been following Terra. He attacks and throws Adam off a building. Winded, he’s unable to fight off the demon.
Tricking the demon, Terra demands that Adam be brought in alive. She can open him up that way, and see how he works. Distracted, Zuriel doesn’t see the handy little dagger Adam had hidden up his sleeve as it’s plunged into his chest. Zuriel descends, and Adam and Terra bugger off to his apartment.
It’s no Batcave, more an emo’s sanctum, sans The Cure on the stereo. She helps patch him up while trying not to get turned on by his scarred and ripped physique, though in my experience, most girls would have been turned right off by the blatant lack of hygiene in the apartment. Thankfully, we never get to see his toilet – can you imagine the monster shits he must forge?
He’s still showing no interest (“I don’t need your help *cough*”) and being all heroically stoic. But we know it’s an act. He gives a shit about the fate of the world, and it’s actually annoying having to watch him wrestle with his conscience. The next day, she leaves (but only after he’s given her the dagger – for protection). She heads back to work, to convince Carl to stop the research. However, the demons convince her otherwise.
Adam heads back to the Gargoyles lair where he warns them all of Naberius’ plan. He’s vexed that they kept the book from him, but agrees to give them the book if they’ll help get him and Terra escape. Tentatively, they agree. He’s told to go and get Terra, and then come back. They’ll help him then. As he leaves, Gideon starts getting all lippy. Leonore cuts him off, and commands him to follow Adam, and kill him once he’s retrieved the book.
Of course, Adam, whose been itching for the chance to slap that annoying look on Gideon’s face all day, kills him. Well, rather, Gideon kills himself on his own axe-bade. What a pleb. It’s actually a glorious moment knowing that Jai Courtney won’t be gracing our screen for another precious few minutes. The rest of the gargoyles, including Leonore, are, unsurprisingly, gutted.
After finding out that Terra has been captured, Adam decides to burn the book, and put an end to the conflict. He coaxes the gargoyles into chasing him en masse. Considering that they’re winged, they somehow can’t catch him before he leads them straight to the Wessex Institute. The demons pile out, and a full scale battle commences.
Adam ignores it all, and heads inside looking for Terra. Carl has been killed, and she’s been forced to complete the work. Naberius, who is through being pleasant, transforms into his full demonic Power Ranger baddy form, and activates the huge machine that will re-animate all the bodies. He also easily overpowers Adam, and uses his crazy evil magic to try and possess him. However, our lad Adam has grown a soul, and the possession fails.
Meanwhile, Leonore, who now believes Adam, is busy trying to destroy all the bodies before they can become possessed. Back at the lab, with the possession attempt failed, Adam uses a broken bit of glass to carve the gargoyle’s holy symbol in Naberius’ chest. Seriously, broken glass. The demon prince, killed by shrapnel. Like shit no human could ever kill a demon. Anyway, he then explodes, taking the entire compound with him.
All the gargoyles are flying about outside, nervously awaiting to see if their queen has managed to escape. Thankfully, she flies from the smoke, clutching both Terra and Adam in her little hoof-claw thingy.
Back at the cathedral, Leonore reveals that Adam had been granted a soul for his selfless acts (namely, trying to protect Terra). Now, with something to live for, a slightly less unhappy voice, and two new shiny weapons, he resolves to protect the human world from the forces of darkness (in an obvious attempt to score a sequel).
At this stage, all of the old gothic fictional beasties like werewolves and vampires have all had the contemporary makeover. It’s not like Dracula or the Wolfman haven’t been the subject of Hollywood bastardization before. Neither, for that matter, has Frankenstein. But like the Blade and Underworld films, I, Frankenstein, seeks to bring the character into the modern era. They want to darken it up, add guns, technology and so forth. And that’s okay. The problem is the story is the same old bullshit – two forces unknown to any humans, one fighting for good, one fighting for evil, going at it tooth and nail. Blah blah blah.
Now that’s not to say films like these can’t work. Forgiving it it’s sequels, Blade is some serious badass cinema. I’d be a lying bastard if I said I, Frankenstein was anywhere near as good. It just doesn’t work, for a variety of reasons. Look, some great films have been made that have ropey CGI. Equally, it doesn’t matter if it’s an 80 minute rush to the end. A film needs to be as long as it needs to be. That isn’t the problem.
The problem is that you don’t care about any of the characters. And that is a major boo boo. Nor is there a really a human character that acts as our guide into this new and crazy world. The only human we come across is about 50% of the way through the movie, and it’s some doctor trying to replicate Frank Snr’s work. She ends up helping Jnr of course, and she is the Cerebus babe from Mass Effect, but despite this we still don’t care if she dies or not. Blade succeeded by telling the story from Sharon’s (that blood doctor) perspective. She (and therefore us) is slowly drawn into the world of vampires and vampire hunters. It’s spoon-fed, not rammed down our throats.
I, Frankenstein, instead just tells us how it is. We’re like “oh, so gargoyles?”. Yeah, gargoyles. Right, I get it, we need some other kind of good guy that hasn’t been used before (or for a long while). Seriously, these dudes are in human form so often, they may as well have just been angels. Save the extra CGI money for an extra location or two. That’s another beef. There’s like three locations, and “Dark Street” is one of the major ones.
The lack of connection to any kind of humanity is further exacerbated by the fact that we never figure out where we are. Which country are we in? America? Europe? Jai Courtney’s constantly changing accent would fool us into thinking either at different points. For the record, Courtney bring’s his usual level of acting quality to this role. You can take that how you want.
Sadly, Aaron Eckhart is put to waste. All he does is scowl and talk in a low, gravely voice. This is his Batman role, and it’s a real shame it isn’t something better. He sounds like a cool, genuine guy, and the character arc he goes on in the Dark Knight really shows that he can pull off difficult roles. Here, the only change he experiences is at the end, when he suddenly decides to protect humans (but wasn’t he doing that before?). He doesn’t even get a cape or a Batmobile to make him look cool. Instead he has those two stupid batons. And even considering they’re 30 years removed from each other, no baton sequence even comes close to matching that intro bit from Rambo 3.
There’s no Frankenstein-y moments either. There’s no cool limb-falling off and re-attaching it moment. He’s never ripped apart like Bishop in Aliens, and then sewn together again into a super badass body. So many wasted opportunities. The only really point of even having him is because he’s “soulless” etc. There’s no variation in his makeup. It’s like they just cut up Eckhart and sewed him up. Even his eyes are the same colour. I much preferred the de Niro Frankenstein’s monster makeup from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He actually looked like he was made from different people.
Plus we just don’t feel sorry for him. Yeah, he got done over by Frankenstein, but grow the fuck up and get on with it. Also, thinking about it, the Gargoyles actually turn out to be the dicks, with them keeping Frank’s diary from him, capturing him, trying to kill him. Conversely, Bastard Bill Nighy seems pretty friendly. He cracks the whip every now and then, but if you’re some demon lord, why not? It’s only when you realize that he’s trying to create a super army of Frankenstein’s before you think “yeah, this guy is bad”.
Beyond the likes of Blade or Underworld, you can also draw a lot of parallels with Hellboy or Constantine. They both feature self-hating badasses, who happen to be the only people who can save the world. However, those films had layers and layers of mythology. They also had a sense of humour. Their characters had vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Adam has none of this. He just meanders around hitting demons with sticks.
Like Priest, this comes from a graphic novel. I don’t know or care how genuinely canon it is. I enjoyed Priest a whole lot more, and that had some pretty serious problems. Yet, I’ll give I, Frankenstein a bit of a pass, as it’s directed and written by Stuart Beattie, who also penned Collateral. This is an adaption of Kevin Grevioux’s graphic novel. He co-created the Underworld movies, and according to legend, wanted the Kate Beckingsdale character to appear in this film. Thankfully, she maintained the integrity of that surprisingly entertaining series by declining that invitation. Seriously, both guys should have known better.
God or someone deemed Frankenstein worthy of a soul by the climax of I, Frankenstein, but that doesn’t extend to the rest of the film. Get it watched if you’re some kind of crazy Aaron Eckhart fan (seriously, you’d have to be on a fandom level of Stalker or above), or if you’re one of those Frankenstein fanboys who absolutely has to see everything Franken. I know you’re out there and I get it – I do the same with Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Just understand that the Arnold equivalent to this is Hercules in New York. The dubbed version.
You’ve been warned.