I feel bad for the set designers on Victor Frankenstein, because with all the scenery chewing that James McAvoy does, they probably had to rebuild every other day. The man scarfs scenery like Marlon Brando on a breadstick buffet at Olive Garden, and unfortunately, he inhales most of the story and Daniel Radcliffe and Jessica Brown Findlay’s performances right along with it, leaving little but chewed-up debris and a bucket full of spittle behind. He’s like Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman and sadly for Radcliffe, he’s the Kristen Stewart, completely overshadowed and overwhelmed by McAvoy.
In spite over the emphatic overacting, however, McAvoy’s Victor Frankenstein is really the only thing the movie has going for it, aside from a vaguely interesting spin on the Frankenstein origins story.
(I wouldn’t normally post a Spoiler warning for the premise of the film, but since it’s by far the most interesting part of the movie, if you insist on going to see it, I’d skip the next few paragraphs, and leave yourself with a little surprise).
Radcliffe plays a hunchback clown in a turn-of-the-century circus who is cruelly treated by others in the circus. He spends his idle hours studying medicine, like any good hunchback circus clown might. Things come to a head, however, when the acrobat, Lorelei (Brown Findlay) falls from her trapeze and nearly dies, before Radcliffe’s circus clown saves her with nothing but a pocket watch and some book knowledge.
McAvoy’s Victor Frankenstein — a medical student — takes notice and breaks the hunchback free from the circus, but not before leaving one dead behind. That attracts the attention of Inspector Turpin (Sherlock’s Andrew Scott), a God-fearing man who hates science. After discovering some random animal body parts at the scene of the crime (because what doctor doesn’t walk around with a bag full of animal parts?), Turpin begins investigating Frankenstein and his new sidekick, only the new sidekick is more difficult to find than one might imagine for a hunchback clown.
Turns out, Radcliffe’s character didn’t really have a hunchback — he had an abscess, and after Frankenstein drains about a gallon of pus out of his backside, gives him a brace and a name (Igor), the hunchback is transformed into a perfectly handsome man who looks a lot like Harry Potter with long hair.
Frankenstein and Igor, of course, set about using their combined knowledge of medicine to build a man from spare parts, much to the dismay of Inspector Turpin and Igor’s love interest, Lorelei. Frankenstein, however, is like, fuck that noise, and goes about his plans to defy God and nature. Things go awry from there.
That’s also where Victor Frankenstein starts to fall apart as a movie. Screenwriter Max Landis (Chronicle) introduces a cool new origins story, but the rest of the narrative falls into place too predictably, aside from the tacked on an completely worthless romantic subplot between Igor and Lorelei, who is like a Xerox copy of a cardboard caricature of a useless female character. She’s not only extraneous to the story, but kills the occasional momentum the movie gains with a series of make-out scenes and tsks tsks.
Still, McAvoy seems determined to save an otherwise dog of a movie by going full Pacino with a deranged Nic Cage twist, and though he’s unable to do so, at least he’s fun to watch. McAvoy — outside of Filth — is typically a more subdued actor, but he blows the screws off the hinges and knocks the door to the floor here. I wouldn’t characterize it as a good performance, but it is an incredibly enjoyable one. Too bad the same can’t be said for the rest of the film.