For the nitpickers out there, let’s get this out of the way first: Yes, the makers of the sci-fi-horror-action-superhero hybrid I, Frankenstein understand that Frankenstein was the name of the doctor and not the name of the monster. They actually do something clever with the name after a while, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I, Frankenstein is far better than it really has any right to be on a surface level. It’s gleefully attuned to how silly its premise is and not aiming to do anything else than be supremely entertaining. Unlike its brethren – the rote, repetitive, and frustrating Underworld franchise from the same producers that dares to take away everything cool about vampires and werewolves by giving them guns – Stuart Beattie’s unpretentious, but still thoughtful and exciting genre flick actually boasts a great deal of creativity within its cheesy Saturday matinee structure.
Shortly after the death of his creator, Victor Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart) returns to the doctor’s estate to bury the man/father who turned his back on him and search for answers to his own identity. Within seconds, he’s attacked by demons who want to kidnap him so they can study the secrets of human resurrection. Just as quickly, he’s helped in his fight by gargoyles that protect the human race from the demons. The gargoyles briefly take the monster in, name him Adam, train him to fight demons, but then never accept him and still consider him an abomination in the eyes of God. After leaving and killing demons on his own for about 200 years, Adam returns to London when a scientist secretly funded by a demonic prince (Bill Nighy) has harnessed the ability to resurrect dead tissue. Now both the forces of good and evil are looking to do away with Adam once and for all, and he’s forced to fight a massive battle on his own.
Like I said, it all sounds ridiculous, but it’s a fun kind of ridiculous. Unlike something in the Underworld universe that robs its beasts of their special abilities just to give them skin-tight leather cloaks and sub-machine guns, Beattie wisely adds attributes to a character that was purposefully a cipher before. This time out he’s essentially immortal unless he’s killed like a normal human could be killed, searching for answers to his past, learning to deal with not just humans shunning him but everyone doing it, and we establish early on that he can hold his own in a fight. And while the character might not look like the monster viewers have been conditioned to think of in their minds (putting him in jeans and a hoodie is actually kinda cool, I think), his motives are still initially true to the rage that Mary Shelley imbued the character with in the first place.
Eckahrt certainly goes all in on the part. He’s obviously doing all his own fighting, and the physicality he brings is impressive. He also knows that the same physicality means that his take on the monster can’t be of the lumbering, oafish, childlike variety. After 200 years, this guy has to be as hard as possible, and he portrays Adam as a self-made man who was never treated like a man a day in his life. It makes him a great foil for Nighy’s scenery chewing refined demon and Jai Courtney and Miranda Otto’s overly privileged angelic gargoyles.
But the best asset is the involvement of Beattie, who knows a thing or two about silly, escapist fare from creating the story to the first Pirates of the Caribbean film and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (both frequently cited by many film snobs that I know as guilty pleasures, and I’ll also throw in that he wrote Michal Mann’s last excellent film, Collateral). He never slows down to explain why things are the way they are. His aim here is to create a new kind of superhero that’s based from numerous different literary sources. Actually, the film has pretty much the same plot as Constantine – the very loosely adapted big screen version of the DC Hellblazer comics – which is great since I, Frankenstein is itself a very loose adaptation of a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux. The fact that it isn’t traditional Frankenstein lore makes little difference when this film actual creates an internal logic that it can stick to, it’s never afraid to seem silly, and the action sequences are so beautifully and ambitiously mounted.
Sure, it’s an easy movie to mock without giving it a chance, but for those willing to go in wanting nothing more than some bone crunching fights, snappy one liners delivered by slick villains, and a no-bullshit anti-hero, I, Frankenstein delivers the goods. It’s fun. That’s all it needs to be.