There are worse movies with the name “Frankenstein” in them than I, Frankenstein, but they had about one ten thousandth the budget and played on double or triple bills with other cheapo pictures and you got your money’s worth.* This one is based on a graphic novel with a breathtakingly unoriginal premise: Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart) returns from the North Pole (where he fled, pursued by his vengeful maker, at the end of Mary Shelley’s novel) — and becomes a martial-arts demon fighter! The spawns of Satan are led by Bill Nighy; they wear The Matrix–like dark suits and ties and look like generic Wall Street scumbags, until their heads burst into flames and they reveal their true horned-devil heads. Nighy (“Naberious”) wants the secret of Frankie’s reanimation, which he’ll use to resurrect dead bodies so that the demons who’ve been “descended” can rise up from hell and successfully possess said bodies because reanimated dead bodies don’t have souls and demons can’t possess anybody with souls …
This universe has a lot of silly rules.
Three quarters of the movie is exposition, the rest computer-generated puppet battles between demons (when stabbed, they flare up and descend to hell) and gargoyles — who are actually vigilante angels who’ve come to Earth to fight a war against demons that will “determine the fate of mankind.” (When the gargoyle-angels get skewered, they “ascend” to heaven in bluish beams, but they’re still Outta There.) The lovely Miranda Otto plays Leonore, High Queen of the Gargoyles. She dubs Frankie “Adam” and says, “Each of us has a higher purpose” and that his is to take sides in a world he’s already a part of. “I go my own way,” he grits. He hates humans. He hates everybody.
Eckhart plays Frankenstein’s monster in a monotonous, teeth-gritting mode, as if someone had one gun on him and another on his family. An imaginative makeup artist could have made him look like he’d been stitched together from different dead bodies, but he’s just a hunk with some painted-on scars, and when he takes off his shirt, a comely blonde scientist, Terra (Yvonne Strahovski), fairly gasps at his excellent pecs. Strahovski — who evidently joined Dexter after I’d given up on the show in disgust — is hot enough to make me wonder how functional Adam is below the waist. But he freezes Terra out. Peevishly, she says, “You talk to the gargoyle queen. I’ll meet you back here in an hour. That way you can just look after yourself. You’re good at that.” Zing!
I liked the scene where the monster holy-waterboards a demon, although it would have been better if he’d had some Schwarzenegger punch line like, “Wash away this sin, motherfucker.” But Stuart Beattie directs with high solemnity. In parts like this, Bill Nighy can usually be depended on to crack a smile or give a line a fruity fillip, but someone must have spiked his Earl Grey with Atavan. With Eckhart’s slow-motion running, the whole things feels stuporous. I wanted to yell, “Reanimate this movie, motherfucker.”
* It didn’t matter that William “One Shot” Beaudine’s Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter and Billy the Kid Versus Dracula were each terrible — together they rocked, especially on a Saturday afternoon in a theater of noisy kids. Ditto the awesomely awful Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (paired with Curse of the Voodoo). The Japanese Frankenstein Conquers the World holds up surprisingly well. (Its sequel, War of the Gargantuas, is actually good.) And I have a soft spot for Kenneth Branagh’s maligned but exuberant Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which would have been better without Robert De Niro walking through the part of the Monster, though anyone with such evident relishes for plunging his fist into Helena Bonham Carter’s chest and pulling out her beating heart can’t be all bad.