I'm going to tell you ahead of time that I loved every minute of this movie, which may surprise some considering the pre-release contempt and glee that it's apparently fated to tank at the box office. So if you were hoping for a hatchet job from me, feel free to skip this review.
Okay, if it's told from Igor's perspective, why is it called VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN? Two reasons. First, we already had a movie called IGOR, and it wasn't very good. Second, if it's a Frankenstein film of any description, then it really ought to have "Frankenstein" in the title.
But "Igor" (Daniel Radcliffe) doesn't start out with that name or any other. As our story begins, he's an anonymous circus clown. His aptitude for anatomical and medical knowledge allows him to be of assistance when his fellow performers suffer various injuries, but his physical deformities ensure that he's never going to be more than the public brunt of "slapstick" abuse. That is, until the title figure (James McAvoy, the young Charles Xavier in the "other" X-MEN films) shows up at just the right time and recognizes the genius for what he is. Victor knows just how to set the clown's body to rights, but actually liberating him from the circus proves impossible without a fatality occurring along the way. Now nearly unrecognizable, the clown is assigned the name "Igor" (to masquerade as Frankenstein's perpetually absent flatmate) and allowed to apply his true skills to his benefactor's ever more ambitious experiments regarding the supposed permanence of death...
Naturally, there are complications. Having saved the life of circus aerialist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), Igor has gained her affectionate gratitude, much to Victor's jealous annoyance (he doesn't want the girl for himself, mind you--but she's distracting Igor from his work!). The detective on the case (Andrew Scott of SHERLOCK and SPECTRE) seems quite reasonable at first glance and is willing to dismiss the circus fatality as an act of self-defense on the part of the innocent clown; but the second he determines that Victor's project offends his devout religious beliefs, he's hell-bent on bringing him down. And then there's Finnegan (Freddie Fox), Victor's fellow student, who just happens to come from one of the land's wealthiest families. He has nothing but contempt for Victor's absurd theories (not to mention his lack of social graces) until he sees proof (messy, dangerous proof but proof all the same) before his very eyes...
One of my grandest disappointments of the last several years has been the latest resurrection of Hammer Films. The promise of such works as LET ME IN and THE WOMAN IN BLACK have been let down by such followups as THE QUIET ONES and (especially) the dismal WOMAN IN BLACK 2. Okay--you can't have Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing back, but VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN is exactly the sort of film over which the Hammer Horror banner could have flown proudly (I know, everybody hated the non-Cushing 'reboot' HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN too, but can you really tell me you didn't enjoy the performance of Ralph Bates?). The sheer exuberance of the performances is infectious, as is the chemistry between Radcliffe and McAvoy (who progresses from praising Igor as his assistant, his partner and, yes, quite understandably, his "creation" (but never his abused toady); while Igor has every right to simultaneously acknowledge and question his loyalties considering the entire world that Victor has opened up to him (Igor's first appreciation of a bustling street in the business district is one of the many simple joys to be had here). The knowing humor throughout is well-appreciated (you probably caught the reversal of the YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN pronunciation gag in the trailer, for instance), and while some of the visual stylings do, indeed, call Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films to mind, this is still its own animal. Director Paul McGuigan (I never saw LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN or PUSH, but today he's most recognized as a SHERLOCK director for the BBC) demonstrates a fine eye for Gothic trappings and keeps the pacing urgent throughout; we get a fine, grisly preliminary Monster (Frankenstein prefers to assign the moniker "Prometheus" to his creations rather than to himself), and while we're reminded more than once that the ultimate Monster is not the star of Igor's tale, he's still a fantastic piece of work (embodied by Spencer Wilding, a specialist in monstrous and human nemeses alike in films ranging from WRATH OF THE TITANS to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) and a worthy show-stopper when he arrives.
This is exactly the sort of fresh and respectful take on timeless material I need to see every so often. I couldn't possibly be happier with VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN.
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