By Thomas Simpson
Mary Shelley’s classic story Frankenstein has inspired more than its fair share of big screen adaptations. It’s a timeless tale that few won’t know so does it really need another outing? Victor Frankenstein focuses less on the monster and its peril, opting to concentrate more on its creators, presented as a Frankenstein Begins of sorts. At least it promises to offer something different.
James McAvoy is cast as the mad scientist, Victor Frankenstein. While attending the circus, a freak accident injures a performer. As he attends her, Victor discovers that the hunchback clown (Daniel Radcliffe) is a skilled physician behind his freakish exterior. Recognizing the extraordinary talent the clown has, Victor helps him escape the circus and adopts him as his assistant, giving him a new life complete with a name, Igor. The duo work together with an insane goal – create life. While Igor wrestles with his morality, Victor is obsessed with his work. Unfortunately for the duo they are under police investigation led by the God fearing Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott).
There is an air of absurdity about Victor Frankenstein that helps make it a fun ride. The first 15 minutes is frantic and exciting with tongue firmly inserted in cheek. There is a comic book tone to the film, which is a trademark of screenwriter Max Landis. Despite this being an original script (albeit based on the famous novel) it feels like a comic book adaptation.
Director Paul McGuigan returns for his first feature since 2009’s Push and hasn’t missed a beat. He injects a frenetic pace to the film that beautifully compliments the mindset of the titular character. It’s slick and snappy but with depth, even if the undertones becomes less subtle throughout. By the end McGuigan and Landis are beating the audience over the head with the subtext.
There is a campy feel to the style that invites audiences to find the proceedings amusing, despite the severity of the themes. In the third act the tone shifts considerably and events play out like a more traditional horror. It’s effective yet rushed in a way that it made me wanting more time spent on this scene.
As talented as those behind the camera are, it’s worth seeing for McAvoy’s performance alone. He’s gloriously over the top as he chews the scenery. Every line, regardless how ridiculous, is captivating, his eyes portraying the sheer madness of the classic literary villain. Radcliffe more than holds his own yet his Igor is more the straight man in this double act. Their chemistry onscreen is undeniable.
Victor Frankenstein is familiar enough to be associated with Shelley’s novel while staying fresh enough to not feel tired. There is a little dip around the halfway mark but the explosive action of the third act will keep you interested. Although there isn’t much screen time for the monster, it is a unique take on the relationship between the creator and his creation.