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Victor Frankenstein Movie Review

Victor Frankenstein (2015) movie poster Victor Frankenstein

Theatrical Release: November 25, 2015 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Paul McGuigan / Writers: Max Landis (screen story & screenplay); Mary Shelley (novel)

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe (Igor Straussman), James McAvoy (Victor Frankenstein), Jessica Brown Findlay (Lorelei), Andrew Scott (Inspector Roderick Turpin), Freddie Fox (Finnegan), Charles Dance (Alphonse Frankenstein), Daniel Mays (Barnaby), Callum Turner (Alistair), Bronson Webb (Rafferty)


In Victor Frankenstein, two young UK actors known around the globe for their work in blockbuster franchises attempt to put their own marks on one of their nation's most iconic pieces of literature.

Top-billed Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter himself, is our entry point. He plays a hunch-backed circus clown with a thirst
for knowledge of the human body. When he's not being ridiculed for the public's entertainment, this unnamed performer is scouring the handful of medical textbooks he counts as his only possessions. The studying comes in handy when Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), a trapeze artist he admires from afar, falls during her act and needs a broken bone fixed to restore her breathing. The clown uses the pocket watch of one Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy), a doctor who just happens to be in the right place at the right time.

Impressed by his self-taught emergency surgery skills, Frankenstein invites the clown to come live with him. He drains the large fluid sac that has hindered the clown's mobility since childhood, fits him with a back brace, and rebrands him Igor Straussman, a name belonging to a scarcely seen morphine addict who also supposedly lives on the premises.

James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe are the hunky new Dr. Frankenstein and Igor in "Victor Frankenstein."

The new Igor learns that Victor is consumed with one goal: to create life from death. Using electricity, animal parts, flesh, and something called a Lazarus fork, Victor has been able to take remarkable strides in the field of reanimation, starting with a pair of eyes he can bring to life for an hour. Igor's knowledge compliments the doctor's bold visions as they move towards making a man, after first experimenting on a monkey.

Written by Max Landis (Chronicle, American Ultra), the son of American Werewolf in London director John Landis, Victor Frankenstein models itself after Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films, keeping pre-Victorian England dark, broody, and atmospheric. Those two films succeeded largely on the entertaining chemistry between Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock and Jude Law's Watson. McAvoy and Radcliffe do not amuse anywhere close to that extent. Not that they are really asked to. The two are servants to a not particularly interesting story that sees them pursued in a murder investigation by the pious, dedicated Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott). Procedural narratives almost always work, but this one does not, existing only to generate some conflict and to delay the inevitable climax in which the "modern Prometheus" is unleashed.

The giant monster is given two hearts and four lungs for reasons that make sense to his makers, but really only to prolong his existence during the obligatory action climax. To even arrive there, we've had Igor develop moral objections to Frankenstein's experimentations and the friends' alliance tested as Turpin amps up the heat against protocol and his supervisors' instructions. To convince us he's heterosexual, Igor also gets to dance with Lorelei, who appreciates his makeover and the fact he saved her life.

The conscientious Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) and daring Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) do not see eye to eye on the value of their godlike scientific experiments.

Scottish director Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin, Push) delivers the movie he was asked to make, but without much inspiration or enthusiasm. His two leads give their best effort and McAvoy is characteristically good in the title role, even if he has to spit and shout on multiple occasions. Until the climax, there is not much action, although Igor's Frankenstein-enabled escape from his caged servitude makes imaginative use of circus settings. Then, we settle into the doctor's lair, which is less the achievement in production design you might anticipate.
The film aims to get a reaction from grotesque imagery, starting with that disgusting back draining and continuing with unnerving messes of fangs, flesh, and nerves. This being a wide Thanksgiving week release from a major studio, of course the material stays within the increasingly accommodating confines of PG-13 and though the source text is considered one of the definitive horror novels, this movie cannot be compared to cinema's entries in the same genre.

Originally supposed to open in early October, Victor Frankenstein had its dates swapped with The Martian, which amidst lighter competition has gone on to gross well over $200 million domestically to undeserving critical acclaim and seemingly misplaced non-technical awards hopes. I don't think the switch benefits the long-unscreened Victor in any way, as it gets to compete with the final Hunger Games, the warmly-reviewed Creed, and Pixar's The Good Dinosaur on this busy weekend and the subsequent couple of slow weeks before Star Wars rings in Christmas a week early.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Creed The Good Dinosaur The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 Spectre
James McAvoy: The Conspirator X-Men: Days of Future Past The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
Daniel Radcliffe: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 Horns Kill Your Darlings
Jessica Brown Findlay: Winter's Tale Lullaby | Directed by Paul McGuigan: Push | Written by Max Landis: Chronicle
Sherlock Holmes Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

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Reviewed November 24, 2015.

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