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Entries in I Frankenstein [2014] (1)

Monday
Jan272014

I, Frankenstein (2014)

Another Bad Creation

I'm no finance expert, but it occurs to me that tax season lines up perfectly with cinema's quarter-long quality drought. From January 1st until just about April 15th, you can count on there being nothing good in mainstream theatres--perhaps the by-product of studios having dumped millions into off-brand genre garbage, which they must convince at least some suckers to pay for in order to avoid too many ticks in the "Loss" column. Here's how bleak things are at the multiplex: the number one movie in America* made just over $21 million last weekend, which probably amounts to the first five minutes of Iron Man 3's pre-sales.

Let's explore this theory with Exhibit A, Stuart Beattie's I, Frankenstein. The Lionsgate brain trust have infused a patchwork of disparate elements with tens of millions of dollars, creating a soulless monstrosity that stumbles about, mumbling to itself and instilling pity in the unlucky few who've seen it up close. Aaron Eckhart stars as the legendary Frankenstein Monster who, in writer Kevin Grevioux's universe, killed his creator's wife and then, inadvertantly, his creator. Outcast from society, he walks the earth for years, until one day he becomes a pawn in the ancient war between gargoyles and demons.

No, that wasn't a copy/paste error from another review. Grevioux loves his fictional-character mash-ups, as evidenced by the Underworld series (which he co-created). But werewolves squaring off with vampires makes a bit more sense than a demon prince's (Bill Nighy) plot to create an army of Frankenstein Monsters in order to defeat a dwindling order of angels disguised as gargoyles. Strike that: he needs to find Dr. Frankenstein's journal to figure out how to reanimate the dead, so he can summon millions of demons to possess his warehouse of host corpses--and then attack the gargoyle-angels. I, Frankenstein is cursed with the kind of convoluted, fan-boy-driven delirium that made Todd McFarlane's Spawn comics unreadable past 1996 (and is also saddled with dialogue that people who hate comics cite as the reason they hate comics: "This ends tonight," for example).

Speaking of comics, I, Frankenstein is based on a series written by Grevioux. I haven't read it, but I have seen some artwork on-line. What jumps out is that the Frankenstein Monster is a cross between a blue-skinned hulk and the iconic Universal Monsters incarnation--not car-accident-survivor Aaron Eckhart wearing too much eye makeup and an Abercrombie hoodie. There's no "creature-ness" to his look or his performance. We're told the monster has no soul, and is really just a collection of body parts. How, then, to explain his melodramatic, fifth-period-English narration, or his ability to speak eloquently after being exiled from humanity for two-hundred years? Everything we know about the classic Frankenstein Monster suggests that his brain is simply re-animated tissue--not a fully re-booted hard drive with emotions and cognitive skills fully intact; if the filmmakers are going to mess with the mythology to this degree, it'd be nice for them to clue in the ticket holders.

Just a thought.

Here's a question: Where does this movie take place? With Beattie's constant fly-throughs of non-descript cathedrals and office buildings, I couldn't tell if the story began in Romania and then moved to New York, or if it was always one or the other--until the end, where it moved to lower Bulgaria...or something. Whatever the case, the story's embarrassing lack of scale made the characters' interminable quests to find each others' hiding places really puzzling. Especially since it seemed each faction, good and bad, could have simply strolled up the street to either the church-looking building with the unusual number of gargoyles adorning it, or the non-specific science factory populated by Agent Smith clones, and shaved a couple centuries off their "epic battle".

The geography almost doesn't matter, really, as I, Frankenstein exists in one of those bad-movie worlds where no one bothers to call the cops or even leave their homes when winged, mythical creatures take to the sky, toppling buildings and raining down fire. In fairness, much of the pyrotechnics stem from exploding demons, and after the twentieth or so "Look, Ma! After Effects!" flame-snake shots, I figured the filmmakers deliberately made their environments and human character fireproof (again, it would've been nice of them to bring the audience on board).

I can hear you ramping up your counter-points now: "But Daybreakers came out in January, and you loved Daybreakers!" Also, "Dredd had a really small scale and one location, and you loved Dredd!" Right on both counts. Look, I'm not saying this theory is bulletproof; there are exceptions to every rule. But Daybreakers and Dredd had the two key ingredients sorely missing from I, Frankenstein: imagination, and actors who know better than to slum for a paycheck.

Seriously, Nighy and Eckhart look like stars taking part in an elaborate after-dinner party game where they pull genres out of a hat and try to build deliberately terrible scenes (points deducted for originality). As gargoyle man-at-arms Gideon, Jai Courtney seems to have really hit the skids after the disaster that was A Good Day to Die Hard (also a tax-shelter release, by the way). Miranda Otto shires it up as the fret-faced gargoyle queen. And Yvonne Strahovski plays Terra, which, I believe is ancient Bulgarian for "Imperilled Scientist Girlfriend". Of course, I wasn't on set (nor was I in anyone's head at the time of filming) but I've never seen a principle cast so thoroughly confused by and disengaged from the material they're supposed to sell.

The only benefit of having seen this movie in a theatre is that I now have the authority to suggest you stay away. I'm like Turbotax: why spend an hour-and-a-half with some boring chain-store creep, only to walk away feeling like someone's stolen a bunch of your money--when you can stay home and zip through the experience (relatively) painlessly? At the very least, I hope I've convinced you to avoid the multiplex until mid April. Let me take the bullets for you, my friends. Together, maybe we can teach these money-grubbing Hollywood jerks that they'll have to finance crap on their own dime.

*Ride Along? Really, you guys?