Pity must be bestowed to Aaron Eckhart’s lonely manmade monster in I, Frankenstein, for not only is he a creature of infinite Romantic enlightenment condemned to a body without a soul, but so too is Eckhart condemned to a film of trappings that are equally soulless, except there is no enlightenment to be found here.How has as a ready-made movie star like this seen his career carved and mutilated by the studio system into shapes so unnatural? This is the charismatic lead who actually made smoking appear subversively cool in a film that never featured a lit cigarette, confronted the most horrifying nightmares of parenthood, and more or less broke the goddamn Batman’s soul. And yet, somehow, the studio committee mad scientists have stitched together his parts from better films and placed his career between the forces of a well-intentioned talent and the fiery pits of never-ending abominable commercialism.Perhaps that is why he got the role of “Adam” Frankenstein in I, Frankenstein, a film that turns Mary Shelley’s literary creation into something of a spiritual WMD between the demonic forces of Hell and the gargoyle(?) forces of Heaven. Yes, in the film’s oddest conceit, there is a war between Heaven and Hell that is fought by mighty morphin’ gargoyles and demons. It is a bizarre decision to not include angels on the side of, well, the angels. Perhaps it would have offended some anti-angel demographic? So, it is demons and gargoyles, the latter of whom use “sacred” symbols to combat the former…like a crucifix with two extra crossbeams intersectng the shaft, as if Christ’s appendages were octadic. Picking up as more a sequel to the original Shelley novel than as another adaptation of it, I, Frankenstein opens on the creature burying his “father” after Victor could not handle the frigid air of the Arctic Circle. The sharply featured man takes daddy home to some vaguely European church, but the funeral procession is cut short by the arrival of the aforementioned demons and gargoyles. After proving his ability to “descend” the creatures of Satan back to their molten abyss (gargoyles “ascend” in blue lights to Heaven), the gargoyles confide their entire purpose in this shadow war with a glorious exposition dump trudged through with as much possible grace by the efficiently lovely Miranda Otto. She is Lenore, the gargoyle queen of this sacred order, who is always accompanied by her dour sidekick Gideon (Jai Courtney). The good cop/bad cop routine reliably cheers or jeers Eckhart’s monster by whichever has a close-up. Leonore even gives the monster his name “Adam,” as in the first man, which despite his reluctance to join their war, Frankenstein Jr. still clings to. He then demonstrates that he’s every bit as Swiss as his creator by refusing to pick a side, going off into the woods to meditate for a few centuries, and just long enough to be roped back into this Holy Crusade for the 21st century. [related article: It’s Alive! 13 Forgotten Frankenstein Films] I, Frankensteinis obviously positioning itself to be the next Underworld franchise. Those movies carved out the late January and early February weekend release real estate with four successful entries and more or less kept black trench coat ass-kicking fashionable well into the post-Matrixhype hangover. Also, since this film is based on a graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux (one of the creators of the original Underworldfilm and the vocally paradigmatic werewolf Raze in that series), I,Frankenstein is blatantly broadcasting itself to be the next decade-long fangs and bullets franchise. However, this movie lacks the cheese and ham that made for delicious cinematic biscuits in those earliest vampire vs. werewolf action flicks. The sheer sight of high-caliber actors like Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen, and Derek Jacobi slumming it in B-movies drenched with corn-syrup and blue lighting filters, but still treating the material like Shakespeare in the Park, made for delirious actioners so overqualified in talent that they bordered on the obscene. Plus, the talented Kate Beckinsale in skintight latex didn’t hurt either.Unfortunately the 2000s are over, and the current crop of male adolescents with disposable income are more inclined to relate the ghostly and gothic with Bella and Edward rather than Selene and Michael. Even a mischievous Bill Nighy, looking like a cat in an overstuffed aviary, cannot elevate this material beyond its basement level starting point. And the demonic make-up (he is Prince Naberius, one of Lucifer’s fellow fallen angels) certainly did no favors, reminding one more of a particularly campy episode of Doctor Who instead of the spine-tingling terrors found in the freshly-turned 40 The Exorcist.
There are rare moments of visual lucidity that demonstrate to viewers why this unholy creation got greenlit in the first place. Every time Adam sends a demon on its final descent, they vanish in a puff of CG-red flame whirling around the head. This nifty magic trick is eye-catching the first few dozen times, but eventually these explosive rhythmic gymnastics overstay their welcome just like the movie’s barely sustained 92-minute running time.Also a fun presence is Chuck’s Yvonne Strahovski as a well-intentioned scientist that’s accidentally aiding Nighy’s satanic experiments. Aussie Strahovski is finally allowed to trade in a faux American accent for…a faux English one when her Dr. Terra seems a little too anxious to get her hands on Adam’s ripped physique for a little off-the-books human testing (like a fine wine, the stitches have aged very well). The last time we saw the Frankenstein monster kidnap a chatty blonde, they discovered the sweet mystery of life. Alas, in I, Frankenstein, they couldn’t even ascertain that.Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!