By Richard von Busack
Trying to reanimate what it considers dead flesh, Max Landis’ script for Victor Frankenstein insists that we’ve heard the story before. Even the big scene, with the lighting bursting and the sparks flying and the monster twitching on his slab, is interrupted by the damned narrator insisting, again, that yes, we know this story. It begins to sound like an apology.
The director is Paul McGuigan, who had great success revivifying Sherlock Holmes for the recent BBC series. Mostly, one sees McGuigan’s handiwork in the way Andrew Scott (the Holmes’ show’s Moriarity) keeps hijacking the film as Inspector Turpin. Turpin smelled trouble ever since dead zoo animal limbs started turning up missing—not every policeman of 1850 or so would have been that acute. Scott’s job is to be the Lionel Atwill of Victor Frankenstein; this story, like Young Frankenstein, has much in common with the 1939 Son of Frankenstein, the film that introduced the original Ygor.
Victor (James McAvoy), like Basil Rathbone’s Wolf von Frankenstein in Son of Frankenstein, is speedy and crack-brained. Igor is a circus hunchback who is actually a brilliant self-trained physician, practicing medicine when he wasn’t wearing greasepaint and staring longingly at the circus’ aerialist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay).
Victor gives the hunchback a bit of doctoring, some chiropractic manipulation and a corset, and then bestows on him the name Ygor, because that was the name of Victor’s previous roommate. Following this makeover, Ygor is the pretty Daniel Radcliffe whom we all love, with just a little scarring on his shoulder. The two begin collaboration on experiments, commencing by revivifying a rotting chimp who, naturally, wakes up cranky.
Landis must have read the shmoop.com version of Mary Shelley’s novel, and adapted that complete with dusty professorial wisecracks. Someone knew enough of the original that Victor shouts “Prometheus!” as he exposes his monster to the thunderclouds. On Frankenstein’s trail, Scott’s Inspector Turpin succumbs to religious mania, as indicated by closeups of a dangling cross the Inspector carries around.
Victor Frankenstein never rises to Scott’s level. And the movie might have had some impact if they’d emphasized his fears. Frankenstein’s creature may have been around too long to be scary—what really scares an American audience is God-mocking atheists.