Following the events of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the movie I, Frankenstein begins with Frankenstein’s monster carrying the frozen corpse of Victor Frankenstein back to his home and burying him. The funeral is the unintended metaphor for Shelley’s gothic novel: the story is dead, the movie has buried it alongside its namesake. What follows is a reimagining of Underworld — a film that I, Frankenstein writer Kevin Grevioux wrote with Underworld director Len Wisemen — adapted from Grevioux’s I, Frankenstein graphic novel. But instead of a war between vampires and werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster is pulled into an eternal war between the demons of hell and the gargoyles who defend the mortal world in God’s name.
The best part of the movie is the first few minutes, which are adapted directly from Mary Shelley’s novel. Moments after the monster lays Frankenstein in his grave, demons descend on the monster and the film quickly unravels.
Between the legions of fiery demons and the flocks of stoney gargoyles descending to hell and ascending to heaven in balls of fire or columns of light, the fight scenes decay into an assemblage of cheap visuals.
The movie is a mishmash of different elements that, when stitched together and jolted to life, produce a monstrous chimera of a plot. And the scars show. Primarily, the legacy of Victor Frankenstein seems to have been shuffled together with Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame — the Disney version — with the gargoyles living in a massive cathedral which resembles the Cathedral of Notre Dame.
Immediately following the fight at Frankenstein’s grave, the monster is brought to the cathedral where the war is explained and the monster is given a name, Adam, and told that he doesn’t have a soul.
The dialogue is awkward and heavy on exposition. Things that are explained are explained and explained. And explained. The things that aren’t explained, aren’t explained.
The movie attempts to justify its own logic time and time again to the point that it seems like everything is being invented on the fly in order to try and hold the whole thing together.
The characters’ decisions and motivations rarely make much sense. Character development and backstory are added ad hoc and after the fact to justify something a character did. The topic of Frankenstein’s promise to make the monster a bride is thrown in over half way through the movie — long after the audience has given up on understanding why Adam seems interested in the process that created him — and none of his behaviour prior to it suggests this motivation at all. The strange hints at romance are even worse since the two leads, Aaron Eckhart and Yvonne Strahovski, have no chemistry together. The pieces of romantic interest jostle around on screen but never really fit together.
More than once the movie’s own logic works against it and it must resort to a coincidence in order to keep the whole story from collapsing.
Early in the film Adam is saved by the simple fact that a tombstone is shaped like the symbol of God, the only symbol that can harm a demon. And it gets worse from there, right up until the end of the film.
In what amounts to a deus ex machine moment, the movie creates a situation at the end that, according to the movie’s own patchwork logic, Adam could not survive. Only he does. Repeating the reanimation process twice apparently provides the one thing that could save him: a soul, one which is probably sucked in through the strange electrical wind tunnel that the resurrection machine creates. That was a spoiler. Deal with it. And sure, it was established moments before that Frankenstein’s original reanimation process was crude and flawed, but that plot point was dead on arrival.
So just leave this movie on the operating table — it doesn’t need to be resuscitated.