A lot of bad action and science-fiction films get made every year. Most of them follow the same basic dramatic beats, no matter how lackluster the execution may be. It’s just a rule, the thing that everyone does. Once, every so often, an exception will come along, using its nonsensical awfulness to prove why the rule is needed. This year’s variant of that film is I, Frankenstein.
The film’s manic nature is established from the first scene, in which the entirety of Mary Shelley’s classic novel is reviewed in at most 3 minutes. Then it’s on to the meat of the plot, where Frankenstein’s Monster (Aaron Eckhart) becomes the key warrior in a battle between the forces of heaven (represented by Miranda Otto’s gargoyle army) and hell (a demon horde led by Bill Nighy). Think about that for a minute: what is the lesson that this film takes from Mary Shelley’s classic novel about how science ought not play God? That God exists, and apparently His whole attempt with the Prince of Peace was an utter failure, so now He intends for the Monster to be mankind’s savior by assaulting demons with escrima sticks.
Perhaps writer-director Stuart Beattie (writer of such films as Collateral and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, making his directorial debut) understands that this concept will not hold up to any scrutiny, either from scientists or theologians, so he attempts to cover it with a breakneck pace. This film does not have a traditional three-act structure; indeed, it can barely be said to have structure at all. It lurches from action scene to the delivery of exposition and back again, with one or two moments that could have been emotional beats if they had been given any time to breathe, but which instead are completely flat.
An equally small amount of attention was paid to the character of the Monster. The only fealty displayed to the source material is to have extensive discussion of what the Monster should be named: the gargoyles call him “Adam,” and the demons call him “Frankenstein.” That’s the germ of a good idea – the Monster is so alone that it never before mattered to him what he should be called – but as with every part of the character, no emotion is ever connected to it. Eckhart is a fine actor, but he’s left with nothing to do but glower and growl through every scene like a caricature of a “dark” superhero: Batman without the tragedy, Hellboy without the charisma.
The fight scenes and special effects have had a healthy amount of effort put into them, and at certain moments, I, Frankenstein halfway resembles an engaging action movie. But those moments are dropped into a film that is so aggressively and maniacally divorced from any kind of reality that it becomes a farce. For example, so little money was spent on extras and background actors that a dangerous game is to take a drink every time it seems that these characters are fighting for an unnamed, unpopulated city composed entirely of abandoned buildings. The sole appeal of I, Frankenstein is that it may well turn out to be the most unintentionally hilarious film of the year.