Sometimes, films are unjustly judged. Other times, popular opinion needs to be challenged. Either way, this content will likely be unpopular.
Falling into the unexpected subgenre that fuses traditional horror monsters with modern action and fantasy, I, Frankenstein already fits a very specific (and arguably unnecessary) niche. The film follows Frankenstein’s monster, Adam (Aaron Eckhart), as he finds himself in the middle of an ancient war between gargoyles and demons. While the fantastical action unfolds, Adam questions his place in the world and the very nature of existence after he meets a modern-day scientist working to reproduce the results of Frankenstein’s experiments in the 18th Century.
Alongside Eckhart, I, Frankenstein features Bill Nighy as the demon Naberius, Yvonne Strahovski as Adam’s scientist friend, Mirando Otto as the queen of the gargoyles, and Jai Courtney as a prominent gargoyle warrior. Much of I, Frankenstein‘s plot revolves around the diary of Dr. Frankenstein and the records of his experiments, with the demons attempting to recreate his success in order to give Hell access to an infinite supply of host bodies for more demons. The gargoyles are on the side of Heaven (probably just for the sake of convenience), and Adam spends much of the movie caught in the middle (although predictably more on the side of the gargoyles).
As well as its weird pseudo-horror premise, I, Frankenstein leans heavily into the fantasy and action elements of its story. This was presumably to give it a similar atmosphere to the more successful Underworld movies, with which it may or may not share a universe. Ultimately, critics hated it, and I, Frankenstein was a huge box office flop – but does it deserve better?
I, Frankenstein Is Appropriately Lifeless And Laughably Dumb
Put simply: no, it doesn’t. Somehow, it manages to be both ridiculously convoluted and remarkably shallow at exactly the same time, taking itself entirely seriously at literally every opportunity. There’s no attempt at any sort of levity – it’s an earnest examination of what it means to be alive from the perspective of the undead, framed with a war fought by eternal creatures in plain sight of humanity.
One of the most strikingly inane elements of I, Frankenstein is the wealth of ridiculous design choices. Adam’s scars make no sense whatsoever, and he doesn’t look even remotely monstrous – he looks like a handsome man who survived an unfortunate accident. The demons and gargoyles transform into their “true” forms for battle, but the demons look like gargoyles and the gargoyles look like angels. It seems pretty clear that no one thought very closely about how dumb this actually is, and instead, I, Frankenstein was painted with a vaguely gothic color palette and packaged without any further consideration.
The action scenes are passable, even though they too often descend into CGI madness. Where practical elements were actually used, there are some sound martial arts moments that are somewhat enjoyable, but they’re tainted by the nonsensical story that drives them. Though the character design is ridiculous, it does at least look relatively well-polished, even if CGI is used to excess.
I, Frankenstein is little more than a lifeless, joyless fantasy action movie that fails at even properly asking the interesting question it attempted to raise. There’s no real pay-off, if only because there’s no real journey: it’s good versus evil, and virtuous neutrality wins in the end. No one learns anything much, and an opening ending hints at a sequel that no one wants. If it wasn’t for the fact that I, Frankenstein had bastardized an iconic movie monster, no one would have cared about it at all. As it stands, all it sparks is a general sense of disappointment.
Summary: Tedious to watch and thoroughly ridiculous, I, Frankenstein is transparently hollow Hollywood dross.
Highlight: The CGI is at least passable, even if it is overused and bafflingly designed.