BY AMBER KELLY-ANDERSON
For those who miss television’s Angel, about the monster-turned-vigilante battling wax-headed demons, I, Frankenstein, Stuart Beattie’s spin on the graphic novel which imagines Frankenstein’s monster as a key figure in the battle between good and evil, might serve as a reminder to add the vampire series to the Netflix que. Tossed into the Angel formula is a dash of Gargoyles, an animated series from the 90s, and a heavy dose of plot from 2004’s Van Helsing. All this adds up to a popcorn-lite bit of filmmaking that is at it’s best vaguely interesting and at its worst laughable.
The film begins with the Monster (Aaron Eckhart in toned down monster makeup) narrating the events of the Shelley novel–creation, damnation and murder. After his creator, Dr. Viktor Frankenstein, freezes to death trying to kill his creation, the Monster returns to bury the body in the Frankenstein family graveyard. He is attacked by demons hoping to collect him for their prince, Naberius (Bill Nighy). He is saved by gargoyles, a race of protectors somehow related to angels who turn from flying stone ghouls to serious, sculpted warriors with a flash of cape. The Gargoyles, in particular their queen Leonore, are interested in the Monster, whom she christens Adam, primarily because Naberius and his demons are interested in him. Yet the question of his soulless purpose is troubling, particularly to Gideon (Jai Courtney), the head gargoyle.
Unwilling to play pawn in the battle between demons and Gargoyles, Adam flees into isolation. More narration tells the audience that isolation didn’t so much work out as demons continued to seek him for 200 years, driving him to become an urban vigilante, complete with hoodie and motocross boots. The bulk of the film then takes place in present day, as Adam tries to discover his part in Naberius’ reanimation plan led by pretty young doctor Terra Wade (Yvonne Strahovski).
I, Frankenstein is much like those movies that come out in January and February–not strong enough for late spring or summer openings, and not the horror that fares well in the fall. The special effects are fine, such as the gargoyle-demon battle with its punctuated heavenly blue and hellfire red light blasts signifying deaths on both sides. But there is something comical about people dramatically yelling “Gargoyles!” Their mythology is so vaguely defined, it’s hard to understand their purpose other than to wear sashes while looking cut and tan.
Eckhart growls through the role of Adam like a bleached version of Harvey Two-Face, but both his make up and performance lack the menace of that earlier role. Most of the time he sounds like Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry. It doesn’t help that he has wooden, throwaway dialogue and his character doesn’t actually have an discernible motivation. As is often the case, Bill Nighy is the saving grace of the film. He struts through with a wry sense of amusement at the entire situation. If only the audience was in on the joke.