"Victor Frankenstein" Flatlines For Most Of Its 110 Minutes

The idea of adapting Mary Shelley’s seminal horror novel Frankenstein to film is nearly as old as the medium itself, beginning in the early 20th century and reliably cropping up every year or two since. 2014’s “I, Frankenstein” was a perfect storm of bald tire storytelling, a bad, dumb movie that lurched along even more unthinkingly than the brainless monster at its center. (It was as incorrect a telling of the story as any; Shelley’s original monster was quite thoughtful.)

The uphill battle facing “Victor Frankenstein” – directed by Paul McGuigan (“Lucky Number Slevin”) and written by Max Landis (“Chronicle”) – is as much a function of supply towering over demand as anything else, although the movie’s sluggishness certainly doesn’t help.

It stars James McAvoy (“X-Men: First Class”) as Victor Frankenstein and Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, as the doctor’s trusty assistant Igor. The screenplay’s introduction of the characters is stylishly directed and good for a bit of excitement, with Landis clearly having fun defying our expectations (it turns out Igor isn’t a hunchback after all, and his name isn’t even Igor). But the story inevitably falls into an all-too-familiar groove, going exactly where we expect it to go exactly when we expect it to go there.

And while Radcliffe remains a uniquely enjoyable performer and McAvoy imbues the good doctor with an overflow of theatricality, the supporting cast is more cadaverous than the body parts lying around our heroes’ lair. Jessica Brown Findlay (“Downton Abbey”) makes a dreary love interest for Radcliffe (more the script’s fault than hers) and the picture’s villain (played by Andrew Scott) is one step removed from being a corpse himself. The film screeches to a halt every time he appears, a reminder of how much (all) of its watchability hinges on its stars.

No, the pic’s only moderately interesting elements outside of Victor and Igor are their creations, the first a mutant chimp and the second their notorious yellowish-green man-monstrosity. There’s some good puppetry and special effects at work here, albeit not enough to make up for the dearth of intrigue just about everywhere else.

The few kernels of interesting ideas at the heart of the movie (Victor Frankenstein being played up as a gigantic crackpot; Igor getting his due) are no match for its general flatness, occasionally spiking into dopey fun but mostly dragging the lake of Frankenstein adaptations past for story beats that are beyond well worn.

That it looks its budget ($40 million) and is never an outright debacle is the kind of faint praise that shouldn’t inspire anyone to give any movie a chance, but diehard fans of the source material could do – and probably have done – worse than “Victor Frankenstein.”

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: November 25, 2015
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Paul McGuigan
Screenwriter: Max Landis
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for macabre images, violence and a sequence of destruction)