Today I watched Paul McGuigan’s Victor Frankenstein (2015)
Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein has been adapted again and again, proving itself to be a timeless tale of human folly. This spin on the tale follows Igor, a circus freak who is rescued from servitude under the big top by Victor Frankenstein. This Frankenstein is still a student, though he finds his classes boring and trite as he is already well along in his own personal research. His macabre findings may hold the key to life and death and like any good mad scientist, Frankenstein is going to take his ideas too far to satisfy his own personal god complex.
The story this time around is told from the perspective of Igor, played by Daniel Radcliffe, who has an interesting view of the situation. Coming from a background of abuse, his tumultuous friendship with Frankenstein is the film’s real core. Which brings us to James McAvoy as our titular character, the most iconic mad scientist in literature, and I think he knocks it out of the park. McAvoy plays the role with pure scenery chewing abandon, embodying all the pulp of this archetype with extreme energy. But he also delivers a deep and nuanced performance, there is a method to the madness which also drives his relationship to Igor and to his work.
This film obviously leans on the pulpier and more over the top elements of the Frankenstein mythology. But it still holds the essential themes of caution in the face of rampant scientific progress and of mankind’s folly in reaching too far for knowledge that could endanger us. This theme and the pulpy visuals combine to make this a quintessential ‘Steampunk’ film, filled with all the cogs and retro super tech one could want. It carries the philosophical flag of that genre, using Victorian style and it’s implications of social control along with themes of arrogance in the face of natural laws and you get true, quality, modern Steampunk. The inclusion of a Puritan police inspector played by Andrew Scott gives the film a way for the progress critical genre to briefly explore another facet of modernization, religious fundamentalism, in his debates with Frankenstein, the film more focuses on the flaws in both arguments, again playing to the cynical ‘punk’ element of it’s genre.
I really don’t understand why other critics were so hard on this movie. It flows well with a consistent if over the top tone that hits all the important thematic notes. The performances are really solid, especially McAvoy who, for my money, delivers one of the quintessential mad scientist performances. The special effects are also on point, delivering some truly twisted monster designs that are fresh but with plenty of old school recognizability. This film is just a lot of fun, it may be a bit more action heavy than some would like, and it may not be bone chilling horror, but what it is is solid, character driven, mad scientist based pulp that succeeded at entertaining me with flying colours. 5/5