Steampunk Aesthetic Sparks Latest Frankenstein Adaptation to Life

Photo Courtesy of Gage Skidmore, Flickr Creative Commons

Like the titular character’s infamous monster, “Victor Frankenstein” is made of recycled parts: references to previous big screen adaptations of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel abound within the film’s two-hour runtime and the steampunk-inspired visual aesthetics of the movie have been cribbed from similar productions, like Robert Downey Jr.’s “Sherlock Holmes” franchise and the lavish 1995 French feature “The City of Lost Children.”

However, “Frankenstein’s” use of others’ material should not be condemned for crass unoriginality, but praised for what it is: a fun pastiche of past movies, pop culture and pseudo-Victoriana.

Despite its name, the protagonist of “Frankenstein” is Igor, Victor’s confidante. Intelligent and good looking, the latest incarnation of the famous lab assistant – played by Daniel Radcliffe of “Harry Potter” fame – is a hunchbacked circus performer with a passion for medical science. 

Abused by his fellow freak show employees, Igor is discovered by Frankenstein when the former saves the life of the trapeze artist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay). Recognizing a fellow scientific genius, Frankenstein whisks Igor away to his laboratory, where the odd couple immediately begin to conduct entertainingly odd experiments.

Unfortunately, the quality of Radcliffe’s performance is mixed. Handicapped in part by poor writing, he falls flat when attempting to bring emotional depth to Igor’s character. But the physicality the actor brings to the role is incredible: contorting and twisting his body to a painful degree, shuffling low over the ground, Radcliffe makes his condition thoroughly convincing, despite a minimal use of prosthetics.

Victor Frankenstein himself is played with glee and consummate skill by James McAvoy, a Scottish actor best known for his portrayal of Charles Xavier in the latest batch of “X-Men” movies. His rendition of the mad scientist is wonderfully slimy: a fickle enfant terrible with a god complex for the ages, McAvoy’s Frankenstein careens through the film with the force and unpredictability of the very lightning bolts he struggles to harness in his laboratory.

The cast is rounded out by Freddie Fox as the cruel Finnegan – a snobby competitor of Frankenstein’s who looks down upon the “nouveau riche” – and Andrew Scott (of BBC’s “Sherlock”) who delivers an intense performance as Inspector Roderick Turpin, a deeply pious policeman appalled by Frankenstein’s mission to bring life to the dead. Scott’s character is the nemesis and mirror image of Frankenstein: both are brilliant men traumatized by loss, who have lost themselves to either religious zealotry or scientific hubris in their respective attempts to reconcile themselves with the finality of death.

“Victor Frankenstein” is a good movie, not a great one. It grows boring toward the end and concludes with an obligatory scene leaving ample room for a sequel. Unfortunately, it is doubtful “Frankenstein” has long to live in theaters; moviegoers in the mood for light, quirky entertainment with elements of horror should buy tickets in a hurry.