In I, Frankenstein, Mary Shelley’s monster, Adam (Aaron Eckhart), is still “alive” and roaming the world – nearly two centuries after his creation (at the titular hands of Dr. Frankenstein). Gifted (or cursed) with immortality, Adam lives his life on the run, in a perpetual state of self-preservation, dispatching malevolent demons that have chased him since they first learned of his “rebirth.”
However, when Adam’s hunt results in the death of an innocent human, he’s pulled back into the ancient battle between his demonic pursuers, led by Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy), and an army of gargoyles commissioned by the archangels to protect innocent souls. As the demons and gargoyles race to find the secret behind Frankenstein’s creation, Adam meets electro-physiologist, Terra (Yvonne Strahovski), who helps him uncover new revelations about his own history – revelations that could threaten the future of humankind.
Kevin Grevioux, known best for creating Len Wiseman’s Underworld franchise, penned both the I, Frankenstein graphic novel source material as well as a first draft of the screenplay adaptation (he also plays one of the main demon henchmen, Dekar). Grevioux’s success with the Underworld series was clearly a starting point for Lakeshore Entertainment and sophomore director Stuart Beattie (whose story credits include G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) in bringing Grevioux’s Frankenstein story to the big screen. While there are some interesting elements to this particular take on the Adam/Monster character, along with very intriguing mythology behind the demon/gargoyle war, I, Frankenstein is (mostly) style over substance at nearly every turn.
Fortunately, that style delivers – meaning that anyone who has been entertained by similar offerings (especially the Underworld series) will find reason to enjoy in Beattie’s film. Visual effects look budgeted, especially the demonic makeup and CGI gargoyle close-ups, but the filmmakers manage to provide some genuinely cool sequences of Adam battling demons – especially those centered on the character’s unique choice of Kali stick fighting.
Still, the story is a mixed bag full of compelling world-building (the descending of demons and ascending of gargoyles, for example) and downright glaring plot holes. For every smart idea, there’s a mind-numbing moment of disbelief to follow – not to mention several frustrating choices by Adam, Terra, and other primary players, that clearly prioritize advancing the plot instead of serving character arcs. In spite of the campy central premise, a martial arts wielding modern Frankenstein creature, Adam’s core narrative journey is stronger than some viewers might have assumed. It’s still a very formulaic story about searching for the “humanity” within but there are also some worthwhile thematic elements at play – the most obvious being: what does it mean to be a “monster”?
To that end, Eckhart attempts a careful balance between injecting a “soul” into Adam while also maintaining a confused rage within the horror icon. The performance is pretty on-the-nose, jumping between looks of bewilderment to exciting action fight choreography – with the actor clearly stretching to make his take on the monster more nuanced and introspective than prior iterations. At times, Eckhart succeeds at elevating the character, and establishes a serviceable foundation to explore Adam in future installments, but hammy dialogue and overall thin characterization limit how far the talented actor can push the material.
Supporting roles are all serviceable but not particularly memorable. Nighy is par for the course as Prince Naberius, cobbling the villain together from prior parts in his filmography – in order to deliver any necessary exposition from the demonic side of I, Frankenstein‘s plot. Fulfilling a similar function on the gargoyle side is Miranda Otto as Lenore – the gargoyles’ direct link to the archangels. Otto is given slightly more to do than Nighy; though, the more engrossing aspects of her character (including insight into the larger mythology: life, God, and divinity) are underserved in favor of how she can help or hinder Adam as the story progresses.
Jai Courtney’s Gideon is saddled with similar baggage. He gets plenty of epic action beats but I, Frankenstein ignores several opportunities to define how the hot-tempered Gargoyle reconciles his rebellious nature, and disgust of Adam, with a dedication to the order’s primary charge – protecting life at all costs. Equally flat is Yvonne Strahovski’s Terra – who audiences learn next-to-nothing about and is only included to redefine Adam, explain scientific jargon, and force drama into the final act. Sadly, Terra is little more than a prop – not developed enough to earn, or give credibility for, a key choice she makes (let alone ensure her romance/infatuation with Adam is convincing).
I, Frankenstein is also playing as both a 3D and IMAX 3D presentation. Given the film’s reliance on visual flare, either upgraded ticket could be worth the added cost. The 3D approach relies on depth, not pop-out moments, and many of the effects (especially fiery slow-mo demonic descendings) look great in 3D as well as on the large IMAX screen format. The decision is entirely dependent on preference this time: viewers who regularly enjoy premium theater experiences will likely get their money’s worth but those who typically prefer to stick with the basics, except for cases where 3D or IMAX dramatically improve the experience, won’t be missing much with a regular 2D screening.
It doesn’t break new ground but I, Frankenstein is not the ridiculous train wreck that some hardcore movie buffs were expecting. The film is unlikely to win-over potential viewers that were never onboard with the (arguably) campy premise, but for fantasy action fans that have been entertained by similar updates to movie monsters in the past, I, Frankenstein successfully delivers enough slick action choreography and interesting mythology to provide fun (though admittedly dopey) escapism. If nothing else, Grevioux and Beattie have established an interesting sandbox – one that, given a stronger story and more developed characters, might even be worth revisiting.
If you’re still on the fence about I, Frankenstein, check out the trailer below:
I, Frankenstein runs 93 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense fantasy action and violence throughout. Now playing in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D theaters.
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For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our I, Frankenstein episode of the SR Underground podcast.
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