I don’t like to use words like "dumb" or "stupid" in my reviews. They’re dismissive and vague adjectives. That being said, there are few other words that encapsulate the loud, brain-numbing "Underworld" fan fiction-ization of an iconic literary and cinematic character that is "I, Frankenstein," an early frontrunner for 2014’s Most Logically Insulting Movie Title (Sponsored by "The Last Exorcism Part II"). It is dumb. Aggressively dumb. All caps D-U-M-B dumb.
The film, based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux (who also plays the main evil bodyguard with a voice so low, it makes the "Oh Yeah" song from "Ferris Bueller" sound like an Alvin and the Chipmunks original), smashes silly science and silly religion into the steely gothic "Underworld" template with all of the grace and thought of, well, Frankenstein’s monster. The results are something like the creation itself: a regrettable, clumsy, soulless and unholy abomination with almost nothing going on upstairs.
In an opening slog of rushed voiceover exposition, Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart) explains his predicament. Back in 1795, angry about being a soulless human jigsaw puzzle hated by society, the monster gets his revenge on his creator by killing Frankenstein’s innocent wife. The doctor heads off into the mountains after his murderous corpse man to return the favor, but he dies along the way as well.
Don’t worry; the slapdash script and Eckhart’s gruff, emotion-devoid voiceover hurriedly skips through these events (which do stick to Mary Shelley's source material ... kind of) with the same emotion and regret most people feel toward throwing out an empty candy wrapper. Five minutes into the movie, writer-director Stuart Beattie manages to both confuse the audience and make the hero of the story somehow less likable than the child-killing horror movie monster of the original 1931 film.
Beattie isn’t done, though; Frankenstein’s monster is soon grabbed by a gargoyle and summoned to gargoyle headquarters. There, the movie spews out a near-constant stream of pure, thick exposition about a secret ancient war between heaven-sent gargoyles and hell-spawned demons. As the gargoyle queen, Miranda Otto (Eowyn from "The Lord of the Rings") is given the brunt of it.
It’s an utter torrent of tedious, characters-to-the-side, convoluted, self-important, clumsy and dully acted explanatory garbage that leaves the audience both bored and baffled. Apparently, Frankenstein’s monster is bored too, because he rejects the gargoyles’ hospitality and sulks off into a forest.
After 200 isolated years of apparently spinning weapons in the mountains, Frankenstein’s monster reenters society as Hunky Emo Frankenstein monster (or Adam for short), complete with abs, a trendy hoodie and Eckhart’s perfect jaw line and dimple chin (the doctor only wanted the best for his unholy scientific atrocity). You might think that two centuries might do some damage to a body made of rotting dead parts, but instead he has handsome good looks and superhuman strength. Science is weird that way, I guess.
It’s good timing because the epic battle is heating up. The demons, led by Prince Naberius (Bill Nighy, sleepwalking through another Davy Jones-like villain), are planning to build a super-Frankenstein monster army, thanks to the help of Terra (Yvonne Strahovski from TV’s "Chuck"), a brilliant scientist. Yet she can’t figure out that maybe reanimating corpses for her clearly evil British boss with his clearly evil henchmen in his clearly evil manor might be a bad idea. To be fair, though, how was she supposed to notice the doorway to the massive chamber of corpses hidden behind some clear plastic flaps?
Eventually, Terra and Adam – the key to figuring out how to reanimate the corpses – team up and try to find a way to stop the demon army from taking over the world.
The story is an absolute mess on almost every level. The plot’s mechanics and motivations change whenever an action scene is deemed necessary, which is every five minutes. Sometimes Adam is the key to the demons’ plan. But there’s also a journal from Dr. Frankenstein that explains everything, so he’s not really that important. But sometimes he is. And sometimes he’s fighting the gargoyles. And sometimes they’re on the same team. And sometimes I bash my head into my armrest because this mythology is getting to be too much work for a movie this brainless.
The only thing more muddled than the plot’s motivations are the character’s motivations, especially for our unlikable, hesitant hero. There’s talk of Adam finding his purpose, talk of daddy issues and – out of nowhere – talk of being promised a partner by Dr. Frankenstein, but these points are picked up and dropped as gracefully as the original 1931 monster picked up and dropped Maria in the lake. Even on a scene by scene basis, he's tough to keep track of.
Amusingly, "I, Frankenstein" thinks this is all serious, moody stuff. When it’s not churning out confusing exposition and mythology, Beattie’s script is filled with dorky glowering statements like, "Then you are no better than Naberius" and "Descend in pain, demon." That these brooding lines are delivered with such portent-filled disinterest from the entire cast – especially an astoundingly blank Eckhart, who must have better things to do than take roles off of Scott Speedman’s scrapheap – doesn’t help matters.
Beattie isn’t actually a terrible action director. Some of the shots – your classic slow-motion trailer shots – are coolly composed and admittedly slick, and for a first timer, he works decently enough with visual effects. There’s even some striking imagery, like racks of corpses eerily lined up like barbed wire ready to be shocked into life.
The problem? The action is just never all that exciting or interesting. It’s hard to feel particularly invested in these generic video game-like creature battles, especially when the audience doesn’t care all that much about the characters involved, what they’re even fighting for and why. After a while, it just becomes loud, bright noise.
Otherwise, the only real entertainment to be found in "I, Frankenstein" is of the unintentional variety. The concept starts aggressively dumb and only gets sillier as it goes along. The dialogue is laughable, made only more so by the straight-faced delivery, and the story is just one nonsensical decision or ridiculous moment after another. The movie reaches its unintentional comedy high point near the end, when the demon monster army is shown charging up like computers, complete with little percentage progress bars.
Actually, the funniest part of "I, Frankenstein" might happen right near the end of the credits when the film makes sure to send a special thanks to Mary Shelley. If she could, she’d probably reanimate herself just to slap the film’s creators. I have a feeling there might be a line.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.