Film review: Victor Frankenstein (15)

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THE latest cinematic take on the story of the Modern Prometheus is Shelley some mistake

Victor Frankenstein (15) | Rating: ** | Directed by: Paul McGuigan | Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy

Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy in Victor Frankenstein

Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy in Victor Frankenstein

Some stories have been told so often even their reinventions have started to feel done to death. Exhibit A? Victor Frankenstein. Despite the best efforts of James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe and Glaswegian director Paul McGuigan, this latest take on Mary Shelley’s much messed-with masterpiece fails to jolt the story to life in a fresh way. Not that this really uses Shelley’s Frankenstein as a jumping-off point. At this stage, countless riffs on the original text have transformed Shelley’s spin on the Prometheus myth into something of a monstrous hodgepodge of good and bad ideas stitched together in the public mind in the crude fashion of those classic movie interpretations of the Creature. Victor Frankenstein’s big idea, for instance, is to tell the story from the point of view of Igor, Victor’s hunchbacked assistant. He didn’t appear in Shelley’s novel, but has become an integral part of its lore nonetheless, thanks in no small part to Mel Brooks’s classic spoof Young Frankenstein. Played by Radcliffe as a savant-like freak whose deformity has driven him to study anatomy with a surgeon’s eye for detail, Igor begins the story as a nameless circus clown whom Victor (James McAvoy) rescues one night after they both come to the aid of a fallen trapeze artist.

Given a new home in Victor’s laboratory, Igor’s self-taught medical skills are put to use helping his new master create fresh life-forms from dead animals – though not before a swift makeover and minor medical procedure rids Igor of his stoop, primarily, one suspects, to relieve Radcliffe of the need to contort his body into 90-degree angles for much of the film. What unfolds thenceforth is an odd mix of high camp and self-serious mythmaking as Igor becomes embroiled in a redundant love story while Victor’s obsession with making death a reversible state sees him come into conflict with a religion-obsessed inspector, whose pursuit of him leads, eventually, to the creation story we all know (albeit relocated to the Scottish Highlands).

Throughout, McAvoy hams it up even more than Kenneth Branagh, but does so intentionally – it’s a performance of utter silliness to which he commits like a pro. If only the film around him did the same. McGuigan (best known for his sterling work directing Sherlock) is too smart not to realise that any attempt to reinvent the story invariably makes it a comment on its own creation, yet while he flirts with parody and irony, the script – by Max Landis – isn’t really good enough. Consequently, the film repeatedly loses its charge, falling back on dull, franchise world-building for sequels that will probably never be made. What a shame.