I, Frankenstein was not the best movie that I’d ever seen, but critics have been so harsh that I find myself dedicated to writing a different sort of review. There is no need to point out the bad bits. There are long lines of snotty critics who want to do that.
So here are the things that I enjoyed about I, Frankenstein. In fair disclosure I have not read the graphic novels that inspired the movie, so if I attribute something cool to the film that was also in the graphic novel, so much the better and apologies ahead of time.
First of all, the monster was delightful. Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal of Adam was deft. I think the role was going to be a challenge. Eckhart’s Adam Frankenstein reminded me of things that I loved in Mary Shelley’s original story, where Frankenstein’s monster was an expressive critical thinker who had a passionate quest for identity. Critics actually blasted the movie because it did not remain true to the classic Frankenstein movies, the ones where the creature was portrayed as a shambling inarticulate animal. Gone was the existential repartee on the ship in the ocean. I am not sure whether or not the gargoyle/demon conflict fits in with the original mythology, but I fully believed Adam’s loyalty given to those who offered him the identity his creator could not.
There is a ridiculous amount of talent in the supporting cast. Bill Nighy is in the running as the Bella Legosi of our time, playing vampires, villains, and cultured bad guys for as long as I can remember. His performance as the head demon Niberius carries a lot of menace without a lot of on-screen violence. Yvonne Strahovski did well as Terra, a scientist researching fringe science in reanimation. She bopped back and forth between “I signed up for this, right?” and totally overwhelmed, which I thought was a nice touch.
The visuals were great, which is to be expected for a movie based on a graphic novel. A lot of the conceptual design work is already done by the initial graphic novel. The creature animation was nice, and some of the fight choreography was excellent. There was a lot of free, swooping shots that made bulky gargoyle builds seem majestic.
The mythology of the film surprised me because it made a certain amount of sense. I don’t have problems with Gargoyles as sub-created Angels, honestly. The origin of the gargoyle design was to ward off evil spirits in the first place. It was nice to see a race of unequivocally dedicated protectors, even if their numbers were dwindling. The transformation sequences were neat, and the ascension/deaths of the gargoyles carried a nice mixture of beauty and tragedy. It was a loss for those who remained behind, but there was an innate nobility to their memorial sashes and a touch of hope for future reunion.
No review of this film would be complete without a mention of Miranda Otto’s portrayal of the gargoyle leader Leonore. She is a strong female leader. That does not mean that she acts like a man with breasts (Honor Harrington), a psycho (Faith from Buffy), or a sexpot dictator. She isn’t a sexless Amazon, either. Leonore is a positive portrayal of Biblical virtues of womanhood. She is wise. She inspires and motivates her followers while curbing their wilder natures. The strength of her faith gives strength to the men and women around her. She nurtures and sustains Adam, with compassion instead of the more macho stereotype of beating him up until he finds that he is strong.
“Serious” (self-appointed elite) critics blast the film for being so different from Mary Shelley’s work, but I think that they are wrong. The basic message of the classic novel is the question of trespassing on God’s domain. Victor Frankenstein could not give meaning or purpose to the life he created. The question of Adam having a name, a purpose, and a soul is very much a logical extension of the original question.
In fairness, I might recommend this as a matinee than an IMAX screening, but it was a fun watch.
Haters abound, so you can go anywhere else to find things to dislike about the film, but if you enjoy comic-book action and a film that doesn’t hate God, there are things to like about this film.