I went to Friends School of Baltimore from first grade until the end of high school. Every summer up until high school, we were assigned summer reading. This was never a problem because I love stories and I always loved to read. Early on it was easy reading like Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and so many young adult books. Unfortunately, the young adult horror series like Fear Street were not on the approved lists so I read those after finishing the approved books. I was a quiet, nerdy kid who did not really go on normal kid adventures so I was happy to have a stack of books. One summer, I decided that it was high time that I delve into classic horror. I gobbled up The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, Dracula and a ton of Edgar Allen Poe. I enjoyed it all but the final book in that vein that I read resonated with me most of all.
Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus (which is its full title) was a really interesting book to finally read. I felt I needed to read it after seeing all of the Frankenstein images and watching all of the Frankenstein movies (including Young Frankenstein). It was the same experience I had with Dracula. I had to go back and see the source for myself. I wanted to read the original story and see how it held up after more than 175 years. I read it quickly because I found that I could not put the book down once I picked it up. The original story is the tale of a man’s hubris in trying to create a man. The biggest shock was how philosophical the book is. There is a lot of thought and fearful reflection from one of the main characters (Dr. Frankenstein). Also, the other main character (Frankenstein) is extremely intelligent and very tragic. It was a great book for a pre-teen to read.
The movie introduces Daniel Radcliffe as Igor which is a character purely invented for the movies in the 1930’s. This is not automatically a problem for me as I have stated before that I do not mind adaptations making changes as long as those changes are to serve the story. Otherwise, we could never take the racist elements out of Lovecraft or have a rapping Puerto Rican Alexander Hamilton. Besides, Igor has become a beloved stock character over the years. The way Igor is used here is pleasantly how Watson is used in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes movies. He is not just an interesting looking prop to do the doctor’s bidding. He is intelligent in his own right and is actually a somewhat nuanced character with a backstory and emotions. This was a good sign early on in the movie as it was an indicator that they were going for something a little different.
I want to take a break and warn you right now that there are a lot of scenes that are not for the faint of heart. A lot of these scenes are either very graphic or highly suggestive of pretty horrific things. Mary Shelley’s original book went into a lot of gory detail about building the titular monster and this movie does not pull any punches there. Kudos to the props department for creating a lot of spectacular visuals. The CGI work is equally great as I found it really hard to figure out where certain things stopped being practical and started being computer generated. The direction is also very good. Paul McGuigan directed this one and there were some reasons to be wary as he directed the truly awful Wicker Park but later redeemed himself by directing half of the present BBC Sherlock series. Like that show, he is working with two main characters who have a close but extremely complicated personal and professional relationship. He pulls this project off almost as well as Sherlock.
The script was written by Max Landis who seems to be quickly becoming known as a mad genius in Hollywood. I think that one day he will be a really brilliant screenwriter. He is good right now, but like American Ultra, this movie felt like it rambled a little and could have used a little tightening up. He is definitely doing a lot of innovative work as he was able to really bring the characters to life in a new way. Of course, some of that credit goes to Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy who are pretty great together. MacAvoy is great as a mad genius, a sort of sociopath with great vision. Andrew Scott is arguably the villain of the movie although, like the book, the movie is a sea of gray areas. The shining star, at least for me, was still Radcliffe who is the emotional center of the movie. He has come a long way since Harry Potter (which I liked) and if this and Horns are any indication, he is going to be remembered well at the end.
Overall, I thought it was a good movie. It could have been a great movie but its pacing felt a little off and some of the characterization was just a little bit muddled. There is also a secondary villain and an anti-hero which starts to mess with the morality messages. It stayed true to the heart of the original story as a tale of Man vs. Nature and the ethical problems that surround the creation of life. There is also a great message about the measure of a man and what exactly makes something or someone a monster. The movie is pretty clever and ambitious and worth a look if only to encourage this kind of film from being made in the future.