Admit it, when you first heard that Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy were teaming up together as dual-leads for a Hollywood studio film you immediately nodded your head in approval and uttered, “Yep, that works.”
How could you not? After all, it’s Harry Potter and Charles Xavier both sharing the same screen together. This blessing was then extended even further since they were working together on a new adaptation of the 1818 gothic literary classic Frankenstein too.
The Britishness was just too overwhelming to even comprehend.
But, despite the potential concoction of these cinematic ingredients, Victor Frankenstein ultimately falls short of expectations. Sure, it benefits greatly from the electrifying camaraderie of James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe, both of whom repeatedly jolt the film back into life when it threatens to maraud into trite, but it eventually fails because it lacks the one thing you expect from a Frankenstein film: monsters.
Instead this omission is filled by tedious, preachy debates over science and theology that lack any vitality and a dull, romantic angle between Jessica Brown Findlay and Daniel Radcliffe that is only forgivable because of the lovable duo. Suffice to say, these lack the comparative impetus that Victor Frankenstein is calling out for as its promise soon begins to dwindle into obscurity.
What makes this monster oversight all the more frustrating is that the addition of these monsters –- as well as the subsequent action set-pieces that usually come hand in hand with them -- would have turned Victor Frankenstein from an at times enjoyable but still ultimately humdrum blockbuster into something much more gratifying. In fact, maybe it could even have had the legs to become a cult commodity. But now we’ll never know.
Still despite its ultimate problems, there’s an appeal and vivacious energy to Victor Frankenstein’s opening that means you’re almost immediately enchanted. Paul McGuigan’s direction shimmers with a nostalgic glow, and while we’re taken back to 19th Century England there’s still a modern edge to proceedings.
There’s also an innate Britishness to the film. McGuigan’s influences seem to range from Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes reboot, to the BBC’s Benedict Cumberbatch led version of the latter, while there’s also sniffs of Doctor Who – mainly in James McAvoy’s performance – and an earthy verisimilitude to the characters and science that smacks of Batman Begins. Just with more smiles.
Plus since Victor Frankenstein re-invents the relationship between Victor Frankenstein and Igor by putting them on an even-keel -- Daniel Radcliffe’s Igor is technically the assistant to James McAvoy’s eponymous, maniacal scientist but the latter often insists that the pair are equals – the film has a unique angle that immediately sets it apart.
This is only enhanced by James McAvoy’s Victor Frankenstein; a character who is so maniacal and hell-bent on scientific discovery that he borders on being an anti-hero. It’s refreshing to see. And even though the film tries to provide a cheesy, resonant reason for Victor’s demeanor, McAvoy’s contagiously effervescent and demonic portrayal means that he doesn’t slant into cliché.
In fact, McAvoy almost single-handedly creates a pace and zest to Victor Frankenstein that allows the film to zip into an engaging rhythm. Sure, he might lack the range and depth of Michael Fassbender, but performances like this are proof that he is now, arguably, the most underrated leading man in Hollywood.
Unfortunately, James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe can only hold up the fort for so long. And while Victor Frankenstein repeatedly threatens to build into something more substantial when it comes to actually delivering these scenes it instead whimpers out.
Even when Victor Frankenstein’s final scene does erupt into action it does so with an amount of unnecessary explosions that would even make Michael Bay wince. In fact, in amidst this chaos you're left with a feeling that they wasted their $90 million budget on this finale rather than spreading it out in a more sensible and measured fashion.
In the end, while Victor Frankenstein has enough redeeming features to avoid being a complete failure, it just doesn’t have enough set pieces to be worthy of the action genre, isn’t scary enough for horror, and fails to offer enough beguiling creations to be memorably sci-fi. And this indecisiveness, ultimately, means that the film is left to wallow in a cinematic purgatory that’s simply mundane.