Let's be honest: not many out there expect much from I, Frankenstein at this point. Shot in the winter of 2012, its bad reputation began as one release date after another got bumped. More grumbling of "a movie gone wrong" arose when announcements for a 3D IMAX post-convert hit. The kiss of death could have been its placement in a January that already has been flush with duds and disappointments. But despite the odds, I, Frankenstein isn't the monstrosity we'd feared. But it's still not good.
Based on Kevin Grevioux's graphic novel of the same name, I, Frankenstein aims to expand on the Mary Shelley story by taking Frankenstein's monster into the modern age. After the death of his creator, this soulless creature stumbles into a holy war being waged between a sect of monastic gargoyles and a gang of dapper demons seeking world domination. Through their conflict, he will be forced to face his past and uncover who he is, with the help of a beautiful young scientist seeking to recreate Frankenstein's resurrection process.
Aaron Eckhart stars as Frankenstein's monster, who is named Adam by the Gargoyle Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto). To his credit, Eckhart digs into the role with a surly bravado, sneering behind the prosthetic scars and deftly wielding scowls as well as the dual-fisted weapons Adam picks up. In action sequences, he's pretty awesome, barreling forth with an effusive rage that punctuates his intimidating physicality. But aside from brawling and brooding, Eckhart is given little else to do. So Adam becomes one note, which suffocates the emotional through-line of his journey--even with the attempted love story with pretty electro-physiologist Terra Wade (Yvonne Strahovski).
Strahovski and the rest of the cast--including Bill Nighy as its big baddie--are earnest in their efforts here, delivering over-the-top dialogue with commitment and conviction. But still I, Frankenstein feels lifeless. Which is strange as many of its key pieces work fine. The action scenes are imaginative and full of solid CG effects, including demons and gargoyles in fiery mid-air brawls. The mythology--as goofy as it sounds--is intriguing. And yet the final result is underwhelming, and I suspect it's because the world is never really grounded.
We follow an inhuman monster without a soul. He crosses paths with shape-shifting demons and gargoyles engaged in a war over the future of humanity, determining whether we live, or die horribly. But for all the talk of humans, the city where the film is mainly set is weirdly devoid of them. This speaks to what I, Frankenstein so sorely lacks: a human connection. The story of a monster forced to discover who he is--man or beast--is a promising start point, but Adam is so dour, so glowering that there's little to connect to.
The most emotionally honest moment of the movie comes when Adam explains this holy war to an incredulous Dr. Wade. She politely begins to suggest that as a reanimated corpse he may have brain damage. But then a demons burst onto the scene, prompting her to cry out, "Oh shit!" This exclamation is the movie's most believable moment. I, Frankenstein would have done well to weave this thread throughout the film. A bit more of this kind of humor offered through a comic-relief/sidekick who was struggling to believe everything going on around them could have been a much-needed stand-in for the audience. Without this warmth or human element, I, Frankenstein ultimately feels cold and joyless.
All in all, if you're looking for mindless action and spectacular battle scenes, you could do worse. Really, the best thing I can say about I, Frankenstein is that it is as close to a live-action movie of the Gargoyles cartoon show as we are ever likely to get. So that's something.
For how the post-converted 3D turned out, check To 3D Or Not To 3D.