(by Dustin Putman
Mary Shelley, this is not. Based on the Darkstorm Studios graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, the $65-million made-by-committee "I, Frankenstein" is so vacant of its own identity that it could just as easily be a loose remake of "Underworld," "Van Helsing," "Max Payne," "Season of the Witch" or "Priest." Although Stuart Beattie (2012's "Tomorrow, When the War Began") is credited as the writer-director of the piece, the artificial, developmentally challenged, CGI-reliant final product reeks of studio interference by a collective of clueless behind-the-curtain bigwigs who don't give a damn about creative expression and haven't a clue what a good film makes as long as they deliver what they (incorrectly) believe will satisfy the financial bottom line. It isn't a surprise that "I, Frankenstein" precariously dangles by a thread of vague coherence throughout, nor that the film was delayed by Lionsgate for eleven months and is finally showing its stitched-together face in the frosty cinematic landscape that is January. Indeed, it's as tragically soulless as its inhuman lead character. Article continues below
The creation of scientist Victor Frankenstein, Adam (Aaron Eckhart) was made in a lab in 1795, experiencing life for the first time but with no detectable penchant for feelings and emotions. Centuries later, he still roams the land, settling in an unnamed city of skyscrapers and cathedrals just as he becomes caught in the middle of a battle between demons and gargoyles. Dark prince Naberius (Bill Nighy) has been collecting the dead bodies of wayward, hellbound men, awaiting the day when he is able to resurrect them and bring about the apocalypse. A breakthrough in reanimation from electrophysiologist Terra (Yvonne Strahovski) and the discovery of Adam, who lives but is not one of God's creations, are the perfect storm for Naberius to carry out his devious plan.
"I, Frankenstein" plays like a 93-minute third act. While this might sound potentially exciting, there is no time whatsoever dedicated to the plight or inner workings of Frankenstein's monster, named Adam here. With the plot clunkily explained via hasty exposition and the other one-note, slimly shaded supporting players rushing in and out of view with no palpable impact, the proceedings immediately dissolve in a chaotic patchwork of live-action figures struggling for screen time against a constant overflow of synthetic computerized creations. The film is close to haphazard in its attempt to build an alternate universe where the sun rarely rises, demons prowl the streets, and stone gargoyles come alive at a moment's notice. Even with all of this blatantly going on, the movie forgets that it has established a setting where civilians actually do exist. Where they are while their homes are overrun by ghouls and their buildings experience devastating damage is either lurking somewhere on the cutting room floor or, most likely, just another shamelessly glaring oversight in a diluted rattrap of many.
Looking like a freshly shorn Ozzy Osbourne in his full stage-ready eye make-up, Aaron Eckhart (2013's "Olympus Has Fallen") embarrasses himself not because he is a bad actor, but because he is so hopelessly led adrift by third-rate material he had no excuse getting involved with in the first place. It is always disheartening to see talented people being wasted in nonsense; explaining openly and honestly about why he agreed to participate in this project would no doubt be more fascinating than anything in the movie itself. As scientist Terra, whom Adam is willing to save no matter the price after she stitches up his wound, Yvonne Strahovski (2012's "The Guilt Trip") is rendered a walking stick figure by a script that shows no interest in getting to know or understand her. As major heavy Naberius, Bill Nighy (2013's "About Time") repeats the same basic role he had in 2003's "Underworld," 2006's "Underworld: Evolution," and 2009's "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans." As for Miranda Otto (2005's "War of the Worlds"), as archangel Leonore, queen of the gargoyles, she brings a curious intensity and sensuality to her nothing part that makes it all the more irksome that she's so underused. All of the actors, it should be noted, race through their scenes and dialogue as if they are late for an important doctor's appointment. This accelerated rhythm causes quite the bizarre sensation - one that never lets up or gives the performers a solitary chance to breathe.
It is difficult to put the blame of failure on writer-director Stuart Beattie when it is so obvious that he was constantly having to battle a cavalcade of suits in the kitchen. This is not a positive way to work, and it rarely breeds quality. Given the freedom to make something special out of the general concepts and conceits of "I, Frankenstein," one can fleetingly glimpse signs of inspiration in the gothic art direction and occasionally stirring effects shot (the sprawling assembly line of Naberius' dangling corpses comes to mind). When stuck in the middle of so much relentless mediocrity, however, rare technical victories cease to matter. "I, Frankenstein" is a bland mess of a film with nothing going on upstairs and not a thing to separate it from the wave of dreary, likeminded sci-fi/action exercises.