One would expect that “Victor Frankenstein,” the latest cinematic retelling of the classic tale, would shed light on the themes explored in Mary Shelley’s original story, from the intrinsic perils of human productive creativity to the titanic struggle for indefinite progress. Inspired by the theme of human limitedness, director Paul McGuigan (Push, Lucky Number Slevin) revived Shelley’s story in a way that does not only abandon the dismal tone of the original work. This nth iteration of the myth of Prometheus also fails to fully develop the philosophical dilemmas fermenting underneath rapid frame changes, edgy special effects and nervous background noises reminiscent of video games.
The film’s narrative is expectedly unoriginal. Igor Strausman (Daniel Radcliffe) is a surgeon who meets the iconic Victor Frankenstein, played by James McAvoy. Strausman exclaims in dismay that any human project to create life presupposes death. However, the story is told through the overlooked lens of Frankenstein’s observant and resourceful assistant Igor. Even the different narrative device employed is not enough to save the bleak coming-into-being of this monstrous project. By taking a secondary horror-movie archetype and attempting to furnish it as a three-dimensional character, “Victor Frankenstein” messily blends together horror, action, comedy and romance.
Radcliffe’s Igor is perhaps the only original character in the film. Initially presented to the audience as a crippled, hunchbacked circus freak, he becomes a likeable protagonist after he saves the beautiful trapeze swinger Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay) after she plunges to the ground. Indeed, savagely mistreated by his family, Igor finds consolation in contemplating the abysmal beauty of the universe within the human body. When he meets Frankenstein, who attends the circus in search of dead animal body parts, the self-taught prodigy is saved and reintegrated into society.
Despite the lackluster plot, the film is somewhat redeemed by its performances. In his portrayal of an emotionally torn Igor, Radcliffe initially succeeds in magnetically hauling the spectator into a Gothic, gloomy, overcrowded London where the sickness of modernization is stifling — steam locomotives, dense clouds of smoke and a gray atmosphere populate almost every outdoor scene.
McAvoy, who has always proved particularly apt at portraying mentally unbalanced characters, delivers a moving performance. He authentically conveys Frankenstein’s god complex through his obsession with reincarnation as a matter of restoring natural order.
Independently of actors’ great contributions, “Victor Frankenstein” lacks unity of purpose. Seemingly unrelated narrative elements and cinematic techniques are deprived of their vital autonomy and sewn together into a dead body. Igor’s vain warning, “No one will remember the man, only the monster!” proves real: The monstrous story of the film eclipses the authority of its starring pieces.