I, Frankenstein 2014
I have decided that I am close enough to the end that I will finish seeing all of the 2014 films on my list before doing my full, written year-in-review including a top 10 list as I have only 3 movies left to watch and hope to knock at least 2 of them out this weekend. But this film I have been almost dreading ever since it came out back in January. I believe it has missed hitting many worst-of-the-year lists (which I haven’t been reading) merely because it has been forgotten about in favor of more recent and/or more high profile disasters and cannon fodder. But I am a fan of Underworld and I liked many of the actors that signed up for this film including Bill Nighy, Aaron Eckhart, and Miranda Otto. Unfortunately, the biggest mistake this film makes is that it is essentially a mid budget B-movie that thinks it’s a big budget serious action movie. I can’t say that this was a very good movie at all, the action was mediocre, there was too much exposition, the effects were overly flashy and not very good, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have a lot of fun watching this film. Admittedly most of that fun was through making jokes at the film’s expense on Twitter, but fun was had nonetheless.
The basic plot of the film is generally a mix of Underworld and Van Helsing. There’s a secret war that’s been waged for hundreds of years between angels and demons, though angels take the earthly form of gargoyles to help hide themselves from humans. Or something like that, as it doesn’t make much sense that the gargoyles can take the form of a human as well. Somehow, they find out about Dr. Frankenstein’s creation which the demons want for themselves as he is essentially a human vessel with life, but without a soul, which apparently bypasses the need for them to trick a human to sell their soul, or something like that as it’s not entirely clear. Somehow, with as much exposition as this film spouts out, it ends up repeating the information that’s already well established, and ignoring information that would actually be more helpful in fully understanding the world that this film takes place in.
There are quite a few intriguing concepts within the world of this film. Frankenstein’s monster is given the name Adam by the angelic order of the gargoyles. The symbol used by the gargoyles is a version of the Papal Cross which a quick wiki search reveals is a sign of authority given to the Pope. During the battles, when the gargoyles and demons die, they are sent back to their respective planes, the demons in a dramatic fireball to hell and the gargoyles in an angelic pillar of light to heaven. Unfortunately, these concepts are seemingly treated with a complete lack of respect. The gargoyle’s symbol is used to sanctify any weapon so that anything with the triple cross scrawled on it suddenly becomes a deadly weapon to a demon. And when the action starts happening, it appears that a mere deep scratch with one of these weapons is enough to create a light show with a fireball doing pirouettes and figure eights before descending to hell, while the gargoyles merely need a scratch from the claws of the demons across their back to send their angel spirit soaring up to heaven. And while Adam is a nicely fitting name for the creature, albeit reminiscent of Buffy’s fourth season villain, it’s barely utilized in favor of calling him “it” or simply Frankenstein as most of the general public has defaulted to calling the monster anyway.
The character designs in this are generally uninspired. Adam himself is generally nondescript aside from some scars on his face. There is no signature forehead scar or neck bolts, not that those are needed, but he even has a fairly modern haircut, as I’m sure he made time through his years of wandering to stop by a hair salon and get his coif done. The gargoyles in their stony form are generally standard stone gargoyles that look like much cheaper CGI than the $65 million budget would indicate. Not only that, but Miranda Otto’s queen gargoyle in her stony form looks way too different from the others. The designers tried to make her look more attractive and less grotesque, but instead made her look way too different and not like a gargoyle at all. The demons by contrast were also fairly typical and generic looking demons, complete with demon drool at certain points in the film. This could have been made up for with some decent fight choreography, but instead the film prefers to focus on the visual spectacle of the fights rather than the actual martial arts used. Adam’s weapon of choice are Kali sticks, but when fighting the demons his extensive training with the weapons was obscured by flashy sparks whenever the “sanctified” sticks would strike the demon he was fighting if it wasn’t the killing blow which made him explode into a bright red fireball.
As far as the acting goes, Bill Nighy is lovable in practically anything he does, and even though he is more or less just playing another version of Viktor from Underworld, he does it quite well with his silky menace. However, the film really rests on the shoulders of Aaron Eckhart’s Adam and he is not a very charismatic character at all, whether it’s his dull voiceover trying to cram in as many odd sounding “I”s as possible, or his lifeless agreement to go along with the gargoyles because of reasons. Miranda Otto is ok as the gargoyle queen, though she isn’t given much to do outside of exposition. In fact, no one is really given much to work with here outside of a lot of exposition and mild plotting. Even the big reveal of the demon’s master plan to use the secret of Adam’s soulless life to bring demons into thousands of collected corpses came off as a rather dull climax. The quality of the visual didn’t even seem as good as the scene in the Matrix where the human farms were first revealed which was 15 years earlier. There was just nothing to latch onto in this film that could hold your attention outside of making a joke at its expense, which is a shame because quite a few good people worked on this film, and it had a concept that had some potential to it, but it just never came together to anything worthwhile.